CENTREVILLE, Mich. – A master plan for St. Joseph County housing was revealed during a virtual meeting held Wednesday, June 23.
The plan, presented by the representatives from St. Joseph County Human Services Commission and Community Action of Southcentral Michigan, was created by the Southcentral Michigan Planning Council (SMPC) over the course of the last two years. Wednesday’s presentation outlined the highlights of the 62-page plan and the recommendations for future housing in the county.
The overall vision of the program, as noted by SMPC Director Lee Adams, is for the county to have a wide range of housing options available for current and future residents.
“If you don’t have choices for people, they might not locate in St. Joseph County,” Adams said. “If they’re looking for something other than a single-family house and all that’s available is single-family housing, they might look elsewhere.”
Adams added that maintenance of current homes for future generations and stakeholder involvement is also important to the plan’s vision. To that, Adams said stakeholders in the county, including businesses, should work together and collaborate to address housing issues and “envision housing as community assets.”
“If you don’t have housing, it’ll be difficult for employers to find new workers and it’s going to be harder to fill schools with new children, and it’s going to be harder for local governments to balance their budgets,” Adams said. “Having a healthy housing system is important for a lot of aspects in the community.”
Three main goals for housing in the county were discussed during the presentation. These goals were to maintain a diversity of housing options for all residents, increase available housing in the county for those who “most need options with less maintenance,” and to collaborate to better promote the county’s amenities to potential residents.
For each goal, there were a number of objectives discussed. For the first goal of maintaining diverse housing options, one of the four objectives was to have local units of government work with economic development organizations to support “at least one innovative housing construction project” in St. Joseph County every year. For the second goal, the singular objective listed was to have the county government work to ensure that seniors who own homes have the resources to maintain their quality of life and their home’s value.
For the third goal of collaboration, objectives included having local units of government participate in collaborative efforts with area chambers of commerce to promote existing amenities, and to have local jurisdictions agree that affordable and reliable broadband internet is a necessary amenity. In the plan itself, it targets a 100 megabits per second download speed and 10 megabits per second upload speed for all communities in the county by 2025. Adams said access to affordable broadband would make housing be competitive and desirable to those who want to live in the area.
Strengths and challenges of housing in the county, as well as plan recommendations, were discussed next. Adams said some overarching themes for recommendations, based on feedback gathered throughout the planning process, included maintaining and enhancing relationships between organizations in the county, citing that housing data in the county “doesn’t often get shared across stakeholders,” as well as expanding maintenance resources for senior and low-income homeowners.
“We think this is one of the most critical things you can do,” Adams told the more than 70 people from a multitude of local agencies in attendance. “We want to make sure houses don’t fall into disrepair and get to the point where they need to be demolished. Keeping them in the circulation of housing is critical to maintaining a healthy ecosystem.”
Adams also noted there were a limited number of options for rental properties in the county, saying people would often leave the county to find rental options that met their needs.
An “innovative approach,” Adams said, would be to help support workforce training and development programs, specifically related to construction trades.
“If there are homes that are in disrepair, possibly giving those as an incentive to people that go through those training programs to fix up and live in, or even fix up and flip, is getting more housing in the market,” Adams said.
Multiple breakout sessions were held to discuss the different aspects of the plan, and allow those in attendance to provide feedback on the plan.
View St Joseph County Housing Plan HERE