People really want us to tackle housing

“The only thing worse than not requesting feedback is not acting on it.” — Frank Sonnenberg, “Listen to Your Conscience: That’s Why You Have One”

Northeast Michigan’s decision-makers have their marching orders: First, build more housing. Second, bring in more jobs.

That’s my takeaway from the Northeast Michigan Community Enhancement Survey results released this month by the Sunset Project and Alpena Community College.

The survey asked about a lot of things, from arts and culture to recreation to engaging youth, but respondents twice answered open-ended questions by saying the community needs more affordable housing to thrive.

That’s a pretty clear sign housing is on Northeast Michiganders’ minds, and they want it on the minds of their leaders, too.

Asked what the community could do to better engage its residents, respondents were pretty evenly mixed between a lot of answers, with everything from doing more to promote diversity and inclusion to supporting local businesses to doing more to welcome newcomers rounding out the top 10 most frequent responses, each with about 2% or 1% of the response.

But addressing the housing crisis was the most common response.

Later in the survey, respondents were asked to name the community’s most essential need.

Again, housing came out on top, with about 21% of respondents saying we need to build more places for people to live.

Creating more jobs came in second, with nearly 11%.

The need is real.

The News found in a 2021 investigation that summer cottages, hunting cabins, and other second homes tied up almost all of the unoccupied housing in Northeast Michigan, and that our region had about half the share of homes for sale as the national rate and just a fraction of the homes for rent compared to the national rate.

Compounding that problem, the region’s population grew by a net more than 500 people in 2022 as more people moved to the area than left it.

A consultancy firm told the Alpena Municipal Council last year that the city needs 100 new housing units.

Many employers have told The News they struggle to recruit new talent to the area because potential hires can’t find a place to live to move to the region.

Thankfully, work is afoot.

Alpena, Alpena County, Alpena Township, and the Alpena Area Chamber of Commerce have teamed up to form a housing task force to address the issue. The county has formed a new land bank to acquire and revitalize properties to make new housing in the area. Habitat for Humanity Northeast Michigan has partnered with Hillman to build 50 affordable homes over the next five years.

And many of the developments proposed for the Alpena area — including proposed projects for the former Habitat for Humanity ReStore site on Chisholm Street and the old Alpena Power Co. property along the river downtown — would include housing as well as retail and business space, though none of those projects have yet come to fruition.

The survey, which ran from March 11 to 29, collected 323 responses over 11 counties, with the biggest share (about 36%) coming from Alpena.

That may seem like a small sample size for 11 counties, but it represents a very healthy response. Most statewide polls aim for 600 respondents.

The only problem with the survey may be the type of people who responded and whether they adequately represent Northeast Michigan’s population.

Respondents skewed older (which tracks with the population as a whole), wealthier (which does not), more educated (which does not) and the type of people who are more engaged with community goings-on (43% said they attend community events more than six times per year).

I’d like to hear from more types of people, especially those who aren’t already engaged, about why they’re not engaged, what would make them engaged, and what they think the community needs.

But I still think the survey shows a clear desire among a sizeable section of the populace for our leaders to build, build, build new housing so we can attract more talent and investment to our community and help address the homelessness problem in our area.

The city, county, township, and Chamber all need to stay all-hands-on-deck on that issue until we’ve got enough homes to go around.


An aside: About 59% of survey respondents said they get most of their information about community events and activities from social media. Newspapers, at about 38%, were the second choice.

About 36% — a minority, but still a sizeable minority — said the area’s events and activities aren’t well-marketed.

If that 36% read The News, I think they’d find the information they want.

The entire News newsroom and especially News Lifestyles Editor Darby Hinkley do a great job reporting on community events and activities, and every Tuesday’s Lifestyles page features the Community Calendar of Events, chock-full of information about things to do across Northeast Michigan.

If you want to know more about your community, turning to your local newspaper is always a safe bet to get what you need.

Justin A. Hinkley can be reached at 989-354-3112 or jhinkley@thealpenanews.com. Follow him on Twitter @JustinHinkley.

Check out the complete report on the results of the Community Enhancement Survey below.

2024 Community Enhancement Survey Results by JustinHinkley on Scribd


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