2017-08-31 / Front Page

Affordable homes may reach Northport

By Eric Carlson
Of The Enterprise staff


LEELANAU REACH members gathered for a board meeting this week at the county Government Center. Those in attendance included, from left, John Gallagher, Rolf von Walthausen, Ty Wessell, Bob Hawley, Kathy Egan, Bob Schlueter, Kathy Koch, Chris Frey, Bill Collins and Frank Clements. LEELANAU REACH members gathered for a board meeting this week at the county Government Center. Those in attendance included, from left, John Gallagher, Rolf von Walthausen, Ty Wessell, Bob Hawley, Kathy Egan, Bob Schlueter, Kathy Koch, Chris Frey, Bill Collins and Frank Clements. A local “affordable housing” group is coming back to life.

Leelanau REACH — which stands for Resources for Economical and Accessible Community Housing — hasn’t built a new home anywhere in the county since 2010.

“There used to be a number of government programs you could tap into to help pay for new homes that local working people could afford,” explained Kathy Egan, the group’s part-time coordinator and only paid staff member.

“But most of those programs have gone away,” Egan said. “So, the board of Leelanau REACH recently decided to start a new project in Northport using funds it is raising on its own.”

REACH is a non-profit housing development corporation run mostly by volunteers,

Leelanau REACH is currently raising about $60,000 to start a $600,000 project to construct four 1,100-square foot single family detached homes on a parcel it is acquiring just off M-22 opposite Johnson Road. Each home will be worth about $150,000.

The project is just within the village limits of the Village of Northport. But it is just outside of the area covered by the Northport sewer district.

The new homes won’t help Northport Village or Leelanau Township generate funds through sewer tap-in and operational fees. Both local governments have been tapping into their general funds to help pay for bonds.

However, locating within the sewer district with its tap-in fee of about $16,700 per unit would make the homes less affordable.

“These homes will be on a shared septic system and water wells,” Egan explained. “This will make them significantly more affordable than they otherwise might be.”

Connections to the Northport sewer system ended up costing users far more than officials estimated when the system was built; the system continues to be the subject of controversy.

The term “affordable housing” is not the precise term being used to described the latest Leelanau REACH project, Egan noted. The correct term is “workforce housing.”

Earlier this year, Leelanau REACH conducted a survey of Northport area employers to determine how much they pay their employees.

“The numbers we gathered told us how much of a house many of these workers can afford – so that’s what we used in planning this project,” Egan explained. “That’s why it’s called ‘workforce housing’ and not something else.”

The last project Leelanau REACH completed, in 2010, consisted of several new single-family homes on Broadway Street in the Village of Suttons Bay. Earlier, they helped develop units in Northport as well.

The corporate board has been meeting periodically over the past seven years to strategize and maintain the group’s status as a non-profit. In the meantime, several board members and supporters have been actively involved in other “workforce housing” efforts including the ongoing “Housing Action Committee” formed earlier this year by the Leelanau County Planning Commission.

Egan said Leelanau REACH does not have a dedicated phone number or website, but can be reached by mail at P.O. Box 961, Suttons Bay, MI 49682.

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