City of Charlevoix Takes Leadership on Housing Readiness

Updated: Dec 6, 2019

A well-known tourism town is taking important steps to make sure homes are available for year-round residents and workers.

The City of Charlevoix has struggled with housing shortages for years. Its businesses report challenges in hiring new workers – especially seasonal workers – and its schools lose students as families leave the area to find homes they can afford. As the impacts on the community grow, the City has taken the lead on encouraging new development, by changing zoning and exploring innovative approaches to development.

Zoning determines where, how, and what types of homes can be built. In many communities, zoning ordinances limit opportunities to build “missing middle” housing types – the apartments, duplexes, or other types of multi-family and medium-density housing that’s needed by young people, seniors, empty-nesters, and small families.

Recognizing the importance of its zoning ordinance in creating new homes, the City of Charlevoix has been proactive in updating its policies to create new opportunities for development. It took its first steps by making changes that would allow residents to rent out a room in their homes for long-term residential uses. The goal was to provide options for workers that struggle to find rentals, especially seasonal workers, who might only be in the community for a few months at a time.

Recently-adopted changes will also allow homeowners to subdivide existing single-family homes into two or more apartments. Property owners can also add accessory dwelling units, also known as granny flats or mother-in-law apartments, to their homes or lots. These approaches are especially important as household sizes shrink: where a single family home might once have been home to a four- or five-person family, it’s now more likely that only one or two people live there.

Other changes streamline the development process, eliminating duplicative review processes the could unnecessarily slow down development and increase costs.

Charlevoix is known as a summer tourism destination, which comes with a strong demand for seasonal housing units and short-term rentals like AirBnB. With concerns that the market for seasonal homes and rentals will result in a loss of year-round homes, the City has “paused” authorization of short-term rentals, to explore regulations that will ensure that new development opportunities created by the City’s recent zoning changes will result in new year-round homes – not just seasonal homes and short-term rentals.

The City’s housing initiatives haven’t been limited to changing local laws: it’s also considering how City-owned land might be used for the creation of year-round homes, and has provided opportunities for reduced hook-up fees for projects that feature housing development. What’s more, it’s providing some funding – along with the cities of Boyne City and East Jordan, Charlevoix County, the Charlevoix County Community Foundation, and the Frey Foundation – to fund a “Housing Ready” staff person that can help to initiate and coordinate development in the County.

As the City takes leadership on housing, it sends a strong signal to developers, funders, and others that Charlevoix is a ready partner for housing development.

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