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  • Eileen Zilch

4 Ways to Bring More Affordable Housing to Livingston County, Michigan

Last week, the Housing Catalysts team hosted Mary Balkema, the Housing Director from Kalamazoo County.

Mary shared Kalamazoo’s County’s housing plan, goals and the strategies that they are implementing to produce more housing that people can afford.

In 2015, Kalamazoo County became the first county in Michigan to pass a millage to be used to develop more housing that people can afford. In 2020, voters passed a housing millage increase (from one-tenth of a mill for 6 years starting in 2015 to 0.75 mills over an 8 year period ending in 2028).

With $800,000 for each of 6 years and now over $6 million each year through 2028, Mary and local developers are able to increase the attainable housing stock in the county by at least 500 units per year. They are also able to rehab aging housing and provide needed services.

Mary was gracious enough to share four core ideas with the Community Catalysts team to help jumpstart our growth in the realm of affordable housing options. 

By following these steps and fostering collaboration, Livingston County can position itself as a trailblazer in the realm of affordable housing.

1. Start Small, Think Big

The journey to widespread affordable housing in Livingston County might seem daunting, but just like Mary's team in Kalamazoo County demonstrated, starting small is a practical first step. 

Small projects can serve as proof of concept, showing that affordable housing initiatives are not only necessary but also feasible and effective. These early successes lay the groundwork for larger endeavors and help to garner the support of the community and potential investors. 

In Livingston County, beginning with modest, manageable projects allows stakeholders to understand the processes, challenges, and triumphs associated with affordable and attainable housing. It’s about creating a scalable model that can grow as the county's resources and experience expand. 

This approach ensures a foundation that's both sturdy and flexible, capable of supporting larger affordable housing projects as momentum builds.

2. Secure Diverse Funding Streams

To make significant strides in affordable housing, Livingston County must explore and secure diverse funding streams. 

Diverse funding provides stability against economic shifts and ensures that housing projects can continue through unpredictable financial climates. It involves tapping into a mix of local, state, and federal funds, as well as seeking investments from private sectors and philanthropic organizations. 

By creating a robust financial strategy, the county can safeguard against overreliance on a single source of funding. This proactive approach to finance not only fuels the initial phases of housing projects but also secures the long-term sustainability of affordable housing initiatives. 

Moreover, a strong financial foundation increases the community's confidence in the county's commitment to creating attainable housing, thereby encouraging further investment and involvement.

3. Push for a Millage Increase

Advocating for a millage increase is a tangible way for Livingston County to commit to affordable housing. 

A millage increase would directly fund housing initiatives, providing a steady stream of revenue to support the development and maintenance of affordable housing units. Yes, this process would require a lot more involvement than many other alternatives, but the payoff has the potential to be HUGE. 

Mary and her team have already pioneered this model in Kalamazoo, which leads us to believe the same breakthrough is possible in the lower state, too. 

Securing a millage requires engaging with the community to communicate the benefits of such an increase, such as improved economic stability and community diversity. It also involves transparently showing how the funds will be used to create attainable housing opportunities for residents. 

By working with local leaders and stakeholders, Livingston County can build a strong case for the millage increase, emphasizing how these funds are an investment in the community’s future. 

Successful advocacy for this funding approach reflects a community’s dedication to supporting its members through accessible housing solutions.

4. Communicate the Need for Attainable Housing

Raising awareness about the need for attainable housing is crucial for Livingston County's success in this endeavor. Effective communication can bridge the gap between misconceptions and reality, highlighting the benefits that affordable housing brings to our community. 

It's about sharing stories and data that resonate with stakeholders and the general public. The county must use various platforms – from town hall meetings and social media to local news outlets – to reach a wide, diverse audience. 

Consistent messaging reinforces the importance of housing initiatives and keeps the conversation at the forefront of community priorities. Clear, honest, and frequent communication not only educates but also fosters a sense of shared responsibility. 

It’s through this collective understanding that Livingston County can build the necessary support to drive positive changes in housing affordability.

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