The not-so-scenic route: a road trip through Michigan housing

If you asked a Michigander to pick a few places on our map that make this place purely “Michigan," they’d probably point out some fan favorites—Detroit, our Motor City; the Upper Peninsula, a rugged testament to natural beauty; Petoskey and our northwestern shoreline, home to our globally rare freshwater dunes. 

Of course, they may also point out a place special to them. A place where maize and blue flags fly proudly; a city on the banks of the Red Cedar River; or perhaps a single stoplight town that you might miss if you blinked too slowly.

And while each destination has its own special features, they all share something in common—calling these places “home” is increasingly difficult. In fact, across all of Michigan the state of housing is in crisis, whether it be skyrocketing cost, aging homes in desperate need of repair, dwindling housing stock or home issues made worse by increasingly extreme weather events.

Housing example_Detroit


From a dazzling Lion’s season to the exciting development of Detroit’s downtown district, it’s easy to assume that the Motor City is on track for complete transformation. But ask the average Detroiter about the roof over their heads and they might just tell you a different story.

A 2020 University of Michigan Detroit Metro Area Communities study found that there are more than 37,600 homes with “inadequate conditions” in Detroit. Some of these homes have exposed wires, no running water, or a broken furnace. Some still put residents at risk for lead poisoning through old pipes and paint.

The Detroit Home Repair program, a $20 million project, was created in 2022 to address these repair needs in the city. The response from residents was enormous—nearly 300,000 calls into the program hotline between May 2022 and October 2023 alone. Unfortunately, this demand far exceeds the resources of the program and has left thousands on waitlists for critical repairs.

Simultaneously, the areas of Detroit that ARE receiving significant, consistent investment are the places least accessible to most Detroiters, with rent and home prices skyrocketing at record rates that are unattainable for working- and middle-class families.

The Detroit Home Repair program demonstrated the need and potential for a repair program that supports low-income families. We believe a statewide, whole-home retrofit program with more resources can provide flexible dollars to address health and safety issues, electrify homes and complement existing programs for energy efficiency and home repairs. That’s why we’re fighting right now for $100 million in the 2025 State Budget for this program.



Up at the northwestern tip of the Mitten are the communities—one being Petoskey—that most of us associate with idyllic summer memories, sandy freshwater dunes and luxurious homes that dot the coast. But our favorite golf courses, restaurants, resorts and shopping destinations depend on a workforce of seasonal employees who make northern Michigan their home from May through October to meet the demand created from an influx of tourists.

Unfortunately, these essential employees find it increasingly difficult to find affordable housing in these communities. The result: local businesses face staffing shortages as their prospective employees compete with seasonal vacationers who can pay premium rental fees, or out-of-towners who can consistently outbid those who do want to purchase a single-family residence.

Some local employers are taking matters into their own hands to offer creative housing solutions.

  • In 2022, Grand Traverse Resort and Spa began a new construction project on its property dedicated to employee housing. Between this facility and other housing investments, the business can accommodate up to 100 employees.
  • Cherry Republic has three properties across Leelanau County dedicated to supporting over 30 employees. It has also invested in housing initiatives like Housing North, Peninsula Housing, and HomeStretch, which are driving sustainable housing solutions in the region.
  • Crystal Mountain’s “Cabanas” can house up to 56 employees who need temporary housing, whether they be seasonal employees, interns or employees recently moved to the area.

Upper Peninsula

Upper Peninsula

When you think of the Upper Peninsula, you probably think about Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Porcupine Mountains or Northern Michigan University. Ideal places to visit, take photos and lock away core Michigan memories.

But what is it like to live in these rugged communities? Well for starters, the things that you might consider basic amenities—going to the grocery store, filling up your gas tank or getting around to your job—are more difficult. A University of Michigan study found U.P. residents spend 30% or more of their household income on transportation to get to food, employment, education, health care and more. Combine that with high housing costs, and U.P. residents spend 50% or more on transportation and housing combined. In Keweenaw County, it’s 67%.

Now tack on a below-state-average median income of just $51,950. So after spending a majority of income on transportation and housing, then factoring in food, child care, health care, etc., what is left for things like home updates on a limited income? Frankly, not much.

That’s especially problematic in the U.P. where residents experience some of the country’s highest electric rates, slow renewable energy buildout and limited energy reliability. In these rural areas where the nearest grocery store or hospital are long distances away, ensuring homes are functional and safe should be a priority.

In 2023, we and a coalition of fellow environmental and conservation organizations landed a $50,000 award through the U.S. Department of Energy’s Energizing Rural Communities Prize to connect individuals and businesses to information and financial resources for investing in renewable energy and energy efficiency in the U.P. We believe this project can be a springboard for more energy work to help bring down utility costs and give more residents energy security in this rugged landscape.



For me, the last (and most special) destination on my tour of iconic Michigan stops is the place I now call home—Marshall. It’s probably not a town you’ve heard of unless you’re from the area. Once upon a time, it actually competed against Lansing to be the state capital. Our downtown is adorned with historic, stately brick homes, a big fountain as you enter the city and walkable shops that could easily step in as the backdrop for Gilmore Girls.

Oh, and did I mention the trees? They’re everywhere. Come fall, I get to experience the colors in their full glory around town and right in my backyard. But while I used to consider living woods-adjacent a personal dream, I’ve quickly learned that the situation is a little more complicated as a homeowner.

Two years ago our 100-foot sugar pine split in half during a record-breaking wind storm. Thankfully, the top half was stopped in mid-air by a sea of other trees and spared us a big hole in the roof and a lengthy (and expensive) renovation. The year before, another tree fell on our backyard fence. Last year, we held our breath as our neighbors (who all have the same densely wooded landscapes) experienced trees falling on their properties too—something that has become all too common.

Marshall fallen trees

My boyfriend and I have only been Marshall residents for six years, but most of the people living on our street have called this place home for 40 years or more. What we’ve heard year to year is the same: they have never seen patterns of wind and rain as extreme as these last few years.

But we aren’t the only ones feeling the changing weather patterns in a real way. Michigan farmers across the state are balancing increased flooding in the spring and draughts in the winter, many investing in costly irrigation and water management strategies. In Detroit, continued flooding is pushing some residents to their breaking points.

So whether it’s falling trees, or urban flooding or struggling crops, the changes to our climate and evolving weather patterns are redefining our experiences as homeowners. In my neighborhood, many of us have begun preventative tree maintenance to ensure our trees are healthy and trimmed away from our homes. A local friend and Christmas tree farmer has invested in better crop rotation and water-conserving irrigation, two systems he hopes will help him weather these changes and be better suited for the future.

It’s clear that Michigan’s housing crisis is complex and multifaceted—some may even argue that fixing it will require a “Herculean” effort. But that does not deter us. We believe that this place we love is well worth investing in, and that there are real solutions right now to make housing work for more Michiganders. Even more than that—we’re actively pursuing solutions through our work every day.

To learn about our solution, visit Project Greenprint today.

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  • Grace Noyola
    published this page in News 2024-04-05 11:25:41 -0400