2017-11-09 / Front Page

Builder takes on ‘affordable’ challenge

By Alan Campbell
Of The Enterprise staff

THOMASMA THOMASMA A downstate developer with roots in the Glen Lake area is making inroads in the hot topic of a lack of affordable housing in Leelanau County.

Tom Thomasma has purchased most of the vacant lots in Maplewood Commons in Kasson Township, and has been busy through his construction company putting in low-priced modular homes.

He has had no contact with the 26-member Leelanau County Housing Task Force or the county Community Development Department. Instead, Thomasma’s interest in the topic was sparked by a conversation with his cousin, Dave Thomasma, who owns Synchronicity in Glen Arbor.

“We were discussing the affordable housing problem,” explained Tom Thomasma, owner of the Old Towne Builder construction company in Oakland County. “Me being a builder/developer, I took an interest in it and wanted to start poking around to see all the ins and outs, what the obstacles are, what you can produce on lots for, and the regulations for housing. I did quite a bit of poking around and research.”

His pursuit soon led to the door of Serbin Real Estate in Glen Arbor. Broker Rob Serbin thought he might know of just the right location for an affordable housing project.

“He came in two or three years ago and said, ‘I want to address this affordable housing problem.’” Serbin recalled. “And he’s put his money where his mouth is.”

Serbin linked Thomasma up with Greg and Mary Flowers, who had purchased 40 of the 67 lots in the Maple Wood subdivision located west of Maple City on County Road 616. Serbin said Thomasma received an option to buy five lots a year, and has followed through by purchasing 10 so far.

At the time the development was struggling, with only about a dozen homes up.

Thomasma had found a niche in the downstate housing market after the recession stressed the budgets of families, many of whom ended up losing their homes to foreclosure. He created a lease-buy program that allowed families to live in a home that they could eventually own.

“I’ve developed probably 10 subdivisions in (the Detroit) area and close to 400 homes,” he said. “Originally they were all stick-built, but I began exploring modular in 2011 in forming the lease-to-own program.”

Working with the Michigan-based Ritz-Craft company, he’s already built six homes in the subdivisions that sell for about $150,000 to $160,000. The price, he admits, is a bit on the high side for affordable housing,.

It’s because it’s new construction, and this is the cost of new construction. I wouldn’t specifically point to land costs. It doesn’t matter where you’re at, that’s the bottom line,” Thomas said.

The energy-efficient homes come with natural gas, access to a 43-acre common area, and are located in the Glen Lake Community Schools district.

He likened modular house construction to a previous change in the industry.

“We use to get up there with carpenters and cut our own raftors. Then we discovered that a factoring making pre-engineered trusses was the way to go, and this is taking that concept further.”

So far, the subdivision has been very successful. In fact, he’s been selling homes without even having put up a sign at the entrance.

He’s working with a company called By the Shore, L.L.C. for the leases, which end up costing about $1,280 per month.

Rather than rent, Thomasma said the leases “put them on the path toward home ownership.”

His next step might be offering popular “tiny houses” that are now allowed under the Kasson Township Zoning Ordinance.

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