Michiganders need more housing options for a thriving economy

Do you know what one of the key elements to a thriving economy is? It’s often overlooked and underestimated, but it’s the foundation for a healthy community. It’s housing supply and affordability. Let me explain.

It takes prosperous businesses to have a thriving economy, and it takes hard-working employees to run prosperous businesses. These workers need to live in a safe community close to work, so they need affordable housing. Right now, there’s a lack of housing supply and the skyrocketing housing prices deterring would-be homeowners is feeding the labor crisis we’re experiencing in our state and across the country. 

The Michigan Restaurant & Lodging Association (MRLA) has found that restaurants and lodging industries bring $40 billion in revenue to the state and currently employ nearly 600,000 Michiganders, playing a major role in Michigan’s economy. So when these industries suffer, so does the economy as a whole.  

Restaurant and lodging businesses are scrambling to fill labor shortages, and data says we need more affordable places to live for the talent we want to attract. Restaurants and their staff never fully recovered since the onset of the pandemic with closed and limited services and now the lack of affordable housing puts a burden on an already squeezed labor force.

A recent MRLA survey revealed that 60% of statewide operators claim their workforce is challenged by inadequate affordable housing in their operating area(s). And it’s restaurants who are feeling it the most.

Housing supply and affordability is a chronic issue for the hospitality industry, impacting every corner of the state to some degree and not limited just to tourism destinations like Traverse City. We do believe those areas that have sought to create a balance between short-term rentals and neighborhood integrity, like Grand Haven, have done a better job preserving housing supply and affordability for hospitality workers.

Michigan businesses should be looking to model examples for inspiration on creative solutions for affordable housing, like Short’s Brewery who recently put their summer staff up in the Bellaire Inn to effectively support the tourism season. 

​​Too often government “solutions” create unintended consequences. Therefore, we hope all Michiganders can come together to fuel long-term housing solutions. Specifically, this includes legislation that unleashes private sector solutions, removes restrictions and costs that punish low-income workers and eliminates barriers that restrict access to needed supply. By delivering solutions to this challenge we can actively work to end the labor crisis and restore our economy. 

The MRLA and the West Michigan Policy Forum are aligned on the goal of ensuring access to housing that meets the needs of the full community. We both work toward removing barriers that restrict access to needed supply and unleashing private sector solutions in the market to address this problem. 

Michiganders need this priority to be a collective effort if we want to make an impact. We need Michigan’s legislators to recognize the severity of this issue, address it now, and to support solutions. 

Contact your local legislator today and ask them to do more for Michigan’s labor market and fair, housing supply and affordability for all residents. 

By guest author Justin Winslow, President and CEO, Michigan Restaurant & Lodging Association.