Money talks, and unfortunately many young workers struggle to be heard in the Grand Traverse region’s bustling housing market.
A meteoric rise in housing prices came as a welcome reprieve for many following the Great Recession, but that relief now has given way to serious concerns over the future of our working- and middle-class neighbors.
For years, steep housing prices combined with lagging wages and a dearth of child care options have made it difficult for people who work here to also live here. It’s a problem we have reported on repeatedly, and commented on continuously.
Many have turned words into action during the past decade, including organizations like HomeStretch — a nonprofit with a mission to build affordable homes in Traverse City. HomeStretch and others have done a yeoman’s work trying to fill the city’s affordable housing gap.
The nonprofit’s most recent project, an effort to build four small homes on Fern Street, will land in front of planning commissioners Tuesday.
Yet, little has changed.
To our chagrin, and despite near unending public and private conversations on the topic, the movement that has occurred in the housing market has taken us in the wrong direction.
Median rent rose from less than $800 per month in 2010 to $917 per month in 2017, according to Networks Northwest’s data.
During a similar window, median home prices have spiked in Grand Traverse County and its east and west border counties. In Grand Traverse County alone, that market measure jumped 63 percent, to $218,000, during those years.
The rise is good news to many homeowners who like to see the value of their largest investment rise. But it isn’t so rosy for young workers who want to make Traverse City a long-term home, not just a great place to visit.
This is not a problem unique to Traverse City. Many vacation hotspots across the country — places like Jackson Hole, Wyo., and Aspen, Colo. — struggle with the same mechanisms that price working and middle class neighbors out of town.
Many publicly tout positions opposing the idea of Traverse City becoming the kind of place where few who work here can afford to live here, yet they overlook the fact that transition already is in progress.
The view from a well-appointed downtown loft condo or stately Washington Street home makes it easy to overlook the reality many middle-income Traverse City workers face. For people who work in the service industry — the engine for our tourism-dependent economy — the dream of owning a home in Traverse City is just that, a dream. And the picture isn’t much more rosy for many who work in the city’s office suites.
Anyone who wants an eyeful of evidence of our live-there, work-here community should take a quick morning drive east on Supply Road or south on Garfield Avenue or U.S. 31. The nose-to-tail train of vehicles inbound as the workday begins grows longer each month. Each passing month of upward pressure on the housing market squishes a few more working people out the edges of our paradise sandwich.
Some leave for nearby counties where housing is cheaper, others flee the area altogether to pursue better wages, more affordable housing or both.
That exodus has hurt, and will continue to hurt our community.
We don’t have all of the answers. We’re not experts. But it’s clear that there is a need for reasonably priced housing, and a corresponding business opportunity. Our hope is that our city and county commissioners will be more open to creative financing techniques that will encourage such investment. It’s also clear the Grand Traverse region’s working and middle classes are struggling.
We don’t have the answers. We’re not experts. But it doesn’t take a degree in economics to see the Grand Traverse region’s working and middle classes are struggling.
After all, a great view is worth far less to workers who can’t afford to live here.