Officials with the Michigan Economic Development Corp. and Michigan Municipal League have announced a plan to speed up new housing projects across the state by focusing on solutions for infill development.
The two-pronged approach, called “Pattern Book Homes for 21st Century Michigan,” offers free construction plans for multifamily homes that are designed to fit into existing neighborhoods. The program also includes a toolkit funded by the Michigan State Housing Development Authority (MSHDA) to help municipalities modernize their zoning codes to allow for more multifamily construction to help meet housing needs.
Officials say the plan equips housing developers with resources to save time and money when designing units through more uniform options. As well, municipalities will be able to apply the proposed zoning changes to facilitate more housing projects.
“From a planning perspective, we see plans offered in the pattern book as being an important piece of Michigan’s housing equation,” Andrea Brown, executive director at the Michigan chapter of the American Planning Association, said during a virtual press conference today. “We need more housing … and we need it as quickly as possible.”
According to a statewide housing plan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer announced in May, Michigan needs roughly 75,000 homes built over the next five years to keep up with demand. A 2020 housing study conducted by the city of Grand Rapids, the Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce, the Frey Foundation, K-Connect and Housing Next found that Grand Rapids will need at least 5,340 additional rental units and 3,548 owner-occupied units to satisfy housing demand and affordability by 2025.
The needs come as the average sale price for a home in Michigan increased by 84 percent from January 2013 to October 2021, according to the MML and MEDC. During that same period, the asking rent for a Michigan apartment increased by 20 percent, with the highest increases registered in mid-market properties most likely to contain affordable units.
“We have an ongoing labor shortage dating back to the last housing market collapse that is combining with rising material costs and pent up demand to drive up home construction costs,” Home Builders Association of Michigan Executive Vice President Dawn Crandall said. “The pattern book offers creative solutions that can help speed the construction timelines while utilizing existing infrastructure. We look forward to working with our members and local municipal leaders to embrace multifamily home construction like what has been laid out in the pattern book.”
Brown noted that most municipalities are predominantly zoned for single-family residential and would need to adjust their zoning ordinances to build the type of projects that are outlined in the plan.
“Many communities struggle to accommodate multifamily housing in existing neighborhoods in their local zoning codes,” Brown said. “When we say multifamily housing, we mean duplex, triplexes and quads, but it can still be a big lift to move from single-family to even modest density increases by right, but it’s making a first step.”
The zoning toolkit includes suggestions on how to combine zoning districts, expand allowable uses, and how to eliminate or reduce elected body and administrative reviews to speed up projects and cut costs for developers, Brown said.
“Nobody is looking to build a giant apartment complex in the middle of a neighborhood, but there are modest and soft density solutions,” Brown said. “We must take action now so that we can build more housing faster.”
The plan also seeks to work through common challenges associated with construction in historical districts. Historic commissions have “long been cautious of these building types,” but the pattern book suggestions work well in classic, traditional neighborhoods, said Martha MacFarlane-Faes, deputy state historic preservation officer for the Michigan State Historic Preservation Office.
Meanwhile, housing experts believe there “absolutely” is demand for the pattern book’s housing types, which are popular designs from the state’s housing boom and include classic architectural styles popular of the kit homes of the 1920s and 1930s.
“In almost every single market in Michigan, we have people who are looking for smaller-scale housing,” said Melissa Milton-Pung, program manager of policy research labs at the Michigan Municipal League.
The home plans call for separate HVAC systems, individual washers and dryers, and sound buffering systems between units. Based on current construction costs, the Michigan Municipal League estimates that Pattern Book homes can be constructed at $500,000 per duplex and $900,000 per quadplex.
The duplexes, triplexes and quad development plans in the pattern book will likely be priced in the 80 to 120 percent area median income range for most communities once they are constructed, said Richard Murphy, who is also a program manager of policy research labs at the Michigan Municipal League.
“We’ve had conversations with a few communities so far to look at where this might fit in and where they might have those vacant lots in neighborhoods that just aren’t getting built on,” Murphy said.