COVID-19 Vaccination Update from Protect Michigan Commission Meetings

Today I attended the second meeting of the Protect Michigan Commission (PMC). The PMC is a statewide advisory board which provides input on Michigan’s COVID-19 vaccination efforts – I was one of 3 Yoopers appointed to the PMC by Gov. Whitmer last month. I have also been participating in meetings of the PMC Rural Workgroup and Youth (Ages 16-30) Workgroup, which are focused on vaccination access and communications for rural Michiganders and young folks in our state. As you can see from the image above, the U.P. is actually well ahead of the rest of the state when it comes to vaccination, with 18% of Yoopers having received at least the first dose of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines (vs. 16% of all Michiganders) and 11% having received both doses (vs. 9% of all Michiganders). The U.P. (Region 8) is ahead of all other regions in the state in terms of vaccination rates.

Contrary to some initial concerns that I had heard, the U.P. is not being disadvantaged by the state’s focus on equity or the use of the CDC Social Vulnerability Index (SVI) to help determine vaccine distribution. This makes sense, because the SVI not only measures race and ethnicity, but also poverty, age, the prevalence of certain health conditions, disability rates, high school dropout rates, lack of transportation, and other local data. High SVI ratings also correspond very strongly with areas which saw high COVID-19 infection and mortality rates in 2020, including many parts of the U.P. In fact, the U.P. and Northern Lower Peninsula score at least as high on the SVI as any other part of the state.

Sadly, some state legislators in Lansing (led by State Sen. Tom Barrett, R-Potterville) are currently trying to prevent the state from using equity-based metrics like the SVI to determine vaccine distribution – they want to prohibit the consideration of race, ethnicity, or socioeconomic status to help determine how to allocate COVID-19 vaccine doses. This would almost certainly hurt the U.P., and would lead to much less equitable vaccination outcomes on a statewide level. Please consider contacting State Rep. Sara Cambensy and State Sen. Ed McBroom to urge them to oppose Sen. Barrett’s amendment – in my view, it is clearly bad for the U.P. and will hurt millions of Michiganders in both rural and urban communities and will mostly benefit relatively well-off folks living in downstate suburbs.

The state’s goals for vaccine distribution are as follows: 

  1. Get 70% of Michiganders age 16+ vaccinated ASAP.
  2. Ensure that vaccine distribution is at least 90-95% efficient.
  3. Have zero disparity in vaccination rates re: race, ethnicity, or Social Vulnerability Index (SVI).
  4. Make sure that no Michigander is more than 20 minutes away from a vaccination site.

To achieve those goals, MDHHS has devised 5 strategies which will help us get as many Michiganders vaccinated as quickly as possible:

  1. Get more people vaccinated.
  2. Build a robust network of vaccination sites.
  3. Promote efficiency in vaccine delivery and administration.
  4. Mobilize personnel to maximize vaccination efforts.
  5. Empower people with information to gain the confidence to get vaccinated (this is really where the Protect Michigan Commission comes in, although we also provide input and feedback that can strengthen the other 4 strategies as well).

Here are some other highlights from the first two Protect Michigan Commission meetings:

– We have now delivered more than 2 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine, nearly 1 in 10 Michiganders are fully vaccinated, and we may be able to expect double the current supply of vaccine by May.

– The State is not “hoarding” any vaccine – 100% of the vaccine doses controlled by the State of Michigan has been scheduled, and 84% have been administered already.

– In the graphic below you can see that the initial MDHHS vaccination plan had projected that the general population age 16+ would be able to start receiving the vaccine this fall. However, MDHHS now seems to be more optimistic about vaccine supply and distribution capacity, and it was stated at our Jan. 29 meeting that the general population will hopefully be able to start receiving the vaccine by this summer.

– The State of Michigan is also launching a targeted public information campaign to encourage people to get vaccinated through paid media advertising, and will be devoting at least $30 million to this effort.

– The new Johnson & Johnson single-dose vaccine is 100% effective at preventing severe illness and death from COVID-19, and 60-70% effective at preventing infection. This vaccine will be available as soon as next week, and will allow us to vaccinate Michiganders much more quickly.

02-22-21 City Commission Vote Explanations

My vote explanations for last night’s City Commission meeting will be very brief, because there was very little on the agenda – in fact, at just 28 minutes in length, this may have been the shortest City Commission meeting I have ever attended since being elected in November 2019. Here is my explanation of my vote on the only agenda item that was not a routine appointment or Consent Agenda item:

Water Use Ordinance Review: YES, Passed 7-0

This was a common-sense vote to hire a law firm at minimal cost to the City (less than $10,000) to conduct a legal and technical review of our current water use ordinances in coordination with City staff – this is the same firm that recently completed a similar review of the City’s wastewater system and related ordinances, and I felt that they offered a high level of service and expertise at a fair price.  This will ensure that our ordinances and water distribution system are in compliance with all modern laws, standards, and regulations. This expenditure was already included in the FY 2021 City budget.

Marquette Housing FAQs, Part 3: What is the Housing Committee’s definition of “affordable housing”?

DISCLAIMER: This blog is written by Marquette City Commissioner Evan Bonsall, who also serves as the Chair of the City of Marquette Ad Hoc Housing Committee. The views expressed in this blog are his own, and do not represent the views or imply the official endorsement of the Ad Hoc Housing Committee, the Marquette City Commission, or any of the individual members of the Ad Hoc Housing Committee or City Commission.

Q: What is the Housing Committee’s definition of affordable housing?

A: The Housing Committee did not use a single definition of “affordable housing” because Marquette’s housing needs and the issue of housing affordability are much more complicated than any single definition could ever hope to capture. In August 2020, the Housing Committee unanimously approved the following definition of housing affordability:

Housing is considered “affordable” for a particular household if that household spends 30% or less of their gross household income on all housing expenses. (i)

This 30% standard, while not perfect, is a very widely accepted definition of housing affordability that is used by the U.S. Dept. of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) (ii), the Michigan State Housing Development Authority (MSHDA) (iii), the Marquette Housing Commission (iv), and nationwide housing experts. It also has the important benefit of being simple and easy to understand.

However, it is important to keep in mind that this definition of housing affordability includes ALL housing expenses – in other words, not just a household’s monthly rent or mortgage payment, but also routine maintenance and repair costs, utility bills, internet service, property taxes, and so on. For example, a household earning the City of Marquette median income of $43,977 per year ($3,665 per month) could, according to this definition, afford to spend no more than $1,100 per month on housing, but their actual monthly rent or mortgage payment would almost certainly have to be significantly lower than this to be considered “affordable.” (v) After all, if they are renting, their monthly rent probably does not include certain fees or utilities, and if they are homeowners they will have to pay for utilities, insurance, taxes, and maintenance, not just their monthly mortgage payment. This is not only common sense, but it is also how the U.S. Census Bureau defines housing expenses. (vi)

Q: So are you just saying that all housing is “affordable”? How is this definition useful?

A: No, not really. Of course, all housing is technically “affordable” for someone, but the real question is “Affordable for whom?” After all, the Housing Committee’s sole purpose is to study the housing situation in the City of Marquette and make recommendations to the City Commission about how the City can promote housing affordability. The Housing Committee recognized that the 30% housing affordability standard is pretty much useless without anything to compare it to, so the Committee also approved specific definitions for “low-income housing” and “workforce housing.”

“Low-income housing” is defined by the Housing Committee as housing that is affordable for households earning less than 80% of the City of Marquette’s median income (v) – according to the latest Census Bureau data from the 2019 American Community Survey, this means households earning less than $35,182 per year. (viii) It is important to note that there is a very wide range of incomes and housing price points within this category. For instance, it is possible to find modest market-rate apartments in Marquette that are affordable for households earning close to 80% median income, while for households earning 30-50% median income, low-income subsidized housing such as Pine Ridge or Lake Superior Village may be the only option. Low-Income Housing Tax Credits (LIHTC) can be used to produce new low-income housing, and while LIHTC housing usually services households in the 60-80% median income range (ix), LIHTC developers can produce housing that is affordable for households earning as little as 30% median income– a great local example of this is Grandview Marquette (the old orphanage), which offers income-based apartments for households earning 30% to 80% of the area median income. (x)

“Workforce housing” is defined by the Housing Committee as housing that is affordable for households earning 80%-120% of the City of Marquette’s median household income. (xi) Workforce housing is essentially housing that is affordable for “working-class” or lower-middle-class Marquette households earning about $35,000-$53,000 per year. (xii) Households in this category will generally be more financially stable than those in the low-income category but still likely to be “living paycheck to paycheck,” and are also more likely to be able to consider homeownership as an alternative to renting.

Since releasing the Initial Report in January 2021 and hearing feedback from the public and the City Commission, the Housing Committee has identified a need to discuss these definitions of housing affordability in greater detail and determine what they actually mean in terms of dollars and cents. (xiii) What is the actual price range for owner-occupied homes in the workforce housing range? How much can a household earning 80% median income actually afford to pay in rent? How much could the same household afford to spend if they were looking to buy a home? I am looking forward to working with my colleagues on the Housing Committee to find specific, concrete answers to these questions over the next few months, and sharing those answers in the Final Report in June 2021.

Sources

(i) “City of Marquette Ad-Hoc Housing Committee Initial Report of Findings.” Ad Hoc Housing Committee, City of Marquette. 15 January 2021. Appendix A: Meeting Minutes, “Official Proceedings of the Marquette Ad Hoc Housing Committee, August 11, 2020,” p. 1.

(ii) “HUD’s Public Housing Program.” hud.gov, U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

(iii) “Housing Trust Fund Rent Limits.” hudexchange.info, U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Accessed via “Compliance Current Income and Rent Limits,” michigan.gov/mshda, Michigan State Housing Development Authority.

(iv) Marquette Housing Commission presentation, Marquette City Commission meeting, 8 February 2021.

(v) 2019 American Community Survey 5-Year Estimates, U.S. Census Bureau.

(vi) “Who Can Afford To Live in a Home?: A look at data from the 2006 American Community Survey.” Schwartz, Mary and Ellen Wilson, U.S. Census Bureau. 2008, p. 3.

(vii) “City of Marquette Ad-Hoc Housing Committee Initial Report of Findings.” Ad Hoc Housing Committee, City of Marquette. 15 January 2021. Appendix A: Meeting Minutes, “Official Proceedings of the Marquette Ad Hoc Housing Committee, August 11, 2020,” p. 1.

(viii) 2019 American Community Survey 5-Year Estimates, U.S. Census Bureau.

(ix) Marquette City Commission meeting, 8 February 2021.

(x) “Historic Orphanage Begins New Life as Affordable Housing in Marquette, Michigan.” huduser.gov, U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. 19 February 2019.

(xi) “City of Marquette Ad-Hoc Housing Committee Initial Report of Findings.” Ad Hoc Housing Committee, City of Marquette. 15 January 2021. Appendix A: Meeting Minutes, “Official Proceedings of the Marquette Ad Hoc Housing Committee, August 11, 2020,” p. 1.

(xii) 2019 American Community Survey 5-Year Estimates, U.S. Census Bureau.

(xiii) City of Marquette Ad Hoc Housing Committee Meeting, 9 February 2021.

Marquette Housing FAQs, Part 2: Housing is unaffordable. Why should we care?

DISCLAIMER: This blog is written by Marquette City Commissioner Evan Bonsall, who also serves as the Chair of the City of Marquette Ad Hoc Housing Committee. The views expressed in this blog are his own, and do not represent the views or imply the official endorsement of the Ad Hoc Housing Committee, the Marquette City Commission, or any of the individual members of the Ad Hoc Housing Committee or City Commission.

In Part 1 of this series, I explained why the City of Marquette’s Ad Hoc Housing Committee was created – a housing affordability crisis exists in Marquette, and it is getting worse every year. The median sale price of a single-family home has risen from about $175,000 in 2015 to $220,000 in 2020(i), and median rent rose 21% from 2015-2019 alone(ii). As a result, 1 in 6 Marquette homeowners and 55% of Marquette renters are “cost-burdened,” meaning they are forced to spend more than 30% of their income on housing(iii). For thousands of Marquette residents, homeownership is increasingly an unattainable dream – median incomes have risen 36% in Marquette County from 2000-2017, but during that same time period median home values rose 85% and home sale prices rose 68%(iv); the homeownership rate for Marquette residents ages 25-34 was just 8.9% in 2017, nearly 4 times lower than the national average of 34%(v); and there was mounting statistical and anecdotal evidence that young people and working-class families with children were leaving Marquette to find more affordable housing elsewhere.

However, some Marquette residents may look at these alarming statistics and not be very alarmed at all – they may see the rapidly rising cost of housing in Marquette and ask, “So what? Why should we care?” That is a big question, but in this blog post I will try to answer it as simply and objectively as I can.

Q: Why should we care that housing is unaffordable in Marquette? Why is that a problem?

A: Rising housing prices are not always a problem – in fact, they are often a sign of a healthy local community and a strong economy, and they allow many working-class families to build wealth through homeownership. However, when housing prices rise much more rapidly than inflation or local incomes (as is the case in Marquette), this can become a very serious problem for several reasons.

First, rising housing prices can effectively price people out of our community, especially (but not exclusively) young people and families with children. This has already been happening in Marquette for years, with the number of households with children declining by 7% from 2000-2010, meaning that for the first time in decades, families with children no longer represent the majority of households in the City of Marquette, even while the number of families with children has grown in neighboring communities like Negaunee (vi). Once they are gone, these residents may become rooted in other communities and never come back. Because our schools are mostly funded through state per-pupil funds which follow each child from school to school, this will mean less money for our already-underfunded public schools. It will mean fewer children using our City playgrounds and playing on our youth sports teams. It will lead to less vibrant neighborhoods and a decline in Marquette’s civic life, and because most entrepreneurs are young people (vii), it will mean less economic dynamism and less job creation. It will also make Marquette an increasingly unattractive place to go to school for cash-strapped NMU students, about 60% of whom live off-campus – this would not only hurt NMU (one of the largest employers in Marquette County), but our community as a whole.

Second, rising housing prices can hurt the local economy in the long run. Sure, the real estate industry might do great for a while and create some jobs in the short term, but eventually, if working-class people are priced out of Marquette, local employers will begin to find it harder and harder to hire qualified workers. This has already happened in peer communities like Traverse City, Petoskey, and Charlevoix, where rapidly rising housing prices have not only forced out low- and middle-income residents, but have also hurt local businesses (viii, ix). Having more people of all incomes living in the City of Marquette is better for the local economy. After all, who is more likely to shop downtown or buy gas or get their car fixed in Marquette – the person who lives within walking distance or a 5-minute drive of our downtown businesses, the gas station, or the auto shop, or the person who lives 30 minutes away in Ishpeming, which has its own restaurants, shops, gas stations, and auto mechanics? There is a lot of empirical evidence that allowing more people of all incomes to live closer to downtown districts increases foot traffic and revenue for local businesses (x), and that lower-income people actually spend a higher percentage of their income, with that money then circulating throughout the local economy. (xi)

Third, and this is just my personal opinion, making sure that Marquette is an inclusive, diverse, and welcoming community is just the morally right thing to do, and providing adequate affordable housing for people of all income levels is a vital part of achieving that goal. Rather than ask ourselves why we need affordable housing, we should ask ourselves whether we want to remain a community for everyone, or become a community only for those wealthy enough to live here.

Q: But aren’t these young people who want affordable housing just entitled?

A: It is understandable why some Marquette residents (especially those over a certain age) might feel this way. However, the short answer is no. Before accusing their younger neighbors of being “entitled” for wanting more affordable housing, Marquette residents should consider the following facts:

First, an often-overlooked fact is that young people are not the only Marquette residents who are struggling to pay rent or buy homes in our community. Many Marquette residents are retirees on limited incomes struggling to make rent or to maintain their homes. Many Marquette seniors are looking to downsize, some to smaller, more manageable owner-occupied homes, and others to rental units. In either case, Marquette seniors increasingly need housing that is both affordable and accessible, and ideally located within walking distance of basic amenities. As the Baby Boom generation ages and retires in the coming years, their housing needs will continue to grow and evolve, and to meet those needs we will need to expand the supply of affordable, accessible single-family homes and multi-family rental properties in Marquette, both through new construction and by renovating existing homes.

Nationwide, Millennials (i.e., people ages 25-39) are just as likely to be employed as previous generations were at the same age, and they work similar hours. Despite this, Millennials on average have slightly less accumulated wealth and lower incomes than Baby Boomers or Generation X did when they were the same age. They also have significantly more debt (mostly due to college loans), and are delaying marriage, homeownership, and having children until much later in life than previous generations partially due to these financial challenges (xii). The idea that Millennials are “lazy” or that they “don’t want to pay their dues” is false by any objective measurement.

As for Marquette, the median home sale price in the City of Marquette in 2020 was $220,000 – even after adjusting for inflation (xiii), that is 14% higher than in 2015 (xiv) and 100% higher than in 1985 (xv). In other words, aspiring Millennial homeowners in Marquette today have to pay twice as much for the same homes as their parents and grandparents did in the 1980s. Perhaps it is not surprising then that, as mentioned earlier, the homeownership rate among 25-34 year-olds in the City of Marquette is 4 times lower than the national average. Similarly, even after adjusting for inflation, median rent in the City of Marquette has risen 13% since 2015 (xvi) and 34% since 2000 (xvii). Health care, housing, and education costs have all risen far faster than incomes and inflation over the past 50 years (xviii), and inflation-adjusted median household incomes in Marquette County have actually declined slightly since 2000 (xix). In 1980, Michigan’s minimum wage was $10.42 per hour in 2021 dollars – today, it is $9.65 per hour, meaning that low-income Marquette residents are not only paying more for housing but are also earning slightly less to begin with (xx).

Q: Can’t these people just move out to the townships, Negaunee, Ishpeming, or Sawyer to find more affordable housing?

A: Yes and no. Housing has always been more expensive in Marquette than in the surrounding cities and townships in Marquette County, mostly due to a combination of our desirable lakeside location and the presence of NMU and the regional hospital. However, housing has not always been unaffordable for low- and middle-income people in Marquette, and housing prices have not always been rising so rapidly. And as was noted at a recent Ad Hoc Housing Committee meeting, moving out of town to find affordable housing may not remain an option for very long. For example, today housing is actually more expensive in Marquette Twp. than in the City (xxi); housing prices are already rising in Negaunee and Ishpeming due to out-migration of families from Marquette, with a modest $128,000 home in Ishpeming recently drawing 8 scheduled showings within 24 hours and a small modular home in Negaunee recently selling for $210,000; and Dennis Stachewicz, the City of Marquette’s Director of Community Development and a Forsyth Twp. resident, noted that nearly all of the housing at Sawyer that is fit for human habitation is already occupied, with some apartment complexes having long waiting lists and many homes in Forsyth Twp. selling or renting within days (xxii). Subsidized low-income housing in Marquette is no longer a realistic option either, with qualified applicants having to wait 6-12 months to get through the long waiting lists at Pine Ridge and Lake Superior Village (xxiii).

Finally, in my view, telling low-income and working-class folks (many of whom have lived and worked in Marquette for years) that they need to leave our community to find housing that they can afford is not a real solution – it’s a copout, a white flag of surrender, especially when there is so much more that the City could be doing to help make housing more affordable in Marquette. After all, why should the nurse, the teacher, the police officer, or the auto mechanic who works hard all day providing essential services to our community (usually for less pay than she deserves) not be able to afford to live and enjoy the fruits of her labor in the very community she serves? Rather than asking whether we should care about housing being unaffordable in Marquette, we should be asking what kind of community we want Marquette to be, and then take action to make that vision a reality.

Sources:

(i) “Neighborhood Report – Marquette, Michigan.” Upper Peninsula Assn. of Realtors and Stephanie Jones, Realtor. 8 Sep. 2020. Appendix B in Housing Committee Initial Report of Findings.

(ii) 2015 and 2019 American Community Survey 5-Year Estimates, U.S. Census Bureau.

(iii) 2019 American Community Survey 5-Year Estimates, U.S. Census Bureau.

(iv) “Housing Market Assessment – Marquette County.” Central Upper Peninsula Planning and Development Commission (CUPPAD), Dec. 2020, pp. 25.

(v) “City of Marquette Ad-Hoc Housing Committee Initial Report of Findings.” Ad Hoc Housing Committee, City of Marquette. 15 January 2021.

(vi) “2019 Five-Year Parks and Recreation Master Plan.” City of Marquette, Feb. 2019, p. 19.

(vii) “Young people are more entrepreneurial than ever – but challenges remain.” Centre for Entrepreneurs, 2021.

(viii) “High housing costs in Traverse City now hurting more industries in region.” VanHulle, Lindsay. bridgemi.com, Bridge Magazine, 15 August 2019.

(ix) “In Charlevoix and Petoskey, pricey housing leaves businesses without workers.” Beggin, Riley. bridgemi.com, Bridge Magazine, 28 August 2018.

(x) “Smart Growth and Economic Success: The Business Case.” U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Nov. 2013.

(xi) “Keeping up with basic needs: spending patterns over the past 30 years.” Boone, Graham. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, July 2016.

(xii) “Millennial life: How young adulthood today compares with prior generations.” Bialik, Kristen and Richard Fry. Pew Research Center, 14 May 2020.

(xiii) CPI Inflation Calculator, bls.gov, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

(xiv) “Neighborhood Report – Marquette, Michigan.” Upper Peninsula Assn. of Realtors and Stephanie Jones, Realtor. 8 Sep. 2020. Appendix B in Housing Committee Initial Report of Findings.

(xv) Closser, Bruce (retired appraiser). Cited in “Real Estate Boom and CBD Sales,” Cabell, Brian. wotsmqt.com, Word on the Street, 5 April 2019.

(xvi) 2019 and 2015 American Community Survey 5-Year Estimates, U.S. Census Bureau.

(xvii) 2000 U.S. Census, U.S. Census Bureau.

(xviii) “Millennial life: How young adulthood today compares with prior generations.” Bialik, Kristen and Richard Fry. Pew Research Center, 14 May 2020.

(xix) “City of Marquette Ad-Hoc Housing Committee Initial Report of Findings.” Ad Hoc Housing Committee, City of Marquette. 15 January 2021, p. 11.

(xx) “State Minimum Wage Rate for Michigan.” fred.stlouisfed.org/series/STTMINWGMI, Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, 2021.

(xxi) “Region Dashboard: Borealis Beach.” mqtcoplan.org, Planning Division, County of Marquette. 2019.

(xxii) City of Marquette Ad Hoc Housing Committee Meeting, 9 February 2021.

(xxiii) Marquette Housing Commission presentation, Marquette City Commission meeting, 8 February 2021.

09 February 2021 Vote Explanations

DISCLAIMER: This is a blog post written by Marquette City Commissioner Evan Bonsall. The views expressed herein are his own, and do not represent the views or imply the official endorsement of the City of Marquette, the Marquette City Commission or any of its individual members, or any other City of Marquette officials.

Here are my vote explanations from the Feb. 9, 2021 City Commission meeting:

You can download the Feb. 9 meeting agenda here: https://marquette.novusagenda.com/Agendapublic/DisplayAgendaPDF.ashx?MeetingID=2070

You can watch the meeting video here: https://youtu.be/ze2q-_tj7nI?t=284

Coastal Management Grant Agreement: YES (Passed 7-0)

This was a vote to accept a $200,000 grant from Michigan EGLE which we will use as part of Phase II of the Lakeshore Project, which will consist of lakeshore engineering, landscaping, and rehabilitation to enhance public enjoyment of and access to the shoreline in north Marquette while also preventing future erosion and coastal flooding. The City will provide a $167,469 cash match, as well as various in-kind services, and our partner on the Lakeshore Blvd. project, the Superior Watershed Partnership, will provide an additional $12,851 match. This will require a budget adjustment, as we were not anticipating receiving this grant when we approved our FY2021 budget, but we can accommodate this cost through bonding like we routinely do for capital improvement projects – the long-term cost of funding this project through bonding will be negligible, especially when considering the long-term savings associated with preventing serious damage from erosion and coastal flooding. As a result, I felt that voting Yes was not only the right choice for protecting our lakeshore and our environment, but the fiscally responsible choice as well.

Approve Firefighters Labor Agreement: YES (Passed 7-0)

The City and Marquette Firefighters Association Local 643 agreed to a 3-year contract which includes a higher rate of overtime pay, a conversion from salaries to hourly pay, and keeps employees’ share of health care premium costs at an affordable level. However, like other City contracts negotiated in the midst of the fiscal challenges and uncertainty resulting from COVID-19, the firefighters’ contract does not include a regular pay raise. The lack of a pay raise is not ideal, but our firefighters will now be compensated more fairly for the significant overtime they often work, and managing the increased overtime costs (about $40,000 in additional compensatory time per year) and hourly wages (about $80,000 more per year) will be much easier for the City. The rest of the contract changes were limited to minor language changes. I felt this was a fair compromise between the City and the firefighters’ union.

Reimburse Firefighters for Unpaid Overtime: YES (Passed 7-0)

It was recently determined through a U.S. Dept. of Labor (DOL) investigation that the City has been improperly calculating firefighter overtime in violation of the Fair Labor Standards Act since at least October 2018. No one in the City administration or the Marquette Firefighters Assn. Local 643 bargaining unit was aware of this problem until an anonymous complaint was filed with the DOL, and action was immediately taken to correct it. The DOL determined that the City owed our firefighters a total of $12,000 in back pay, but did not require the City to pay a penalty. The Marquette Fire Dept. is now in full compliance with the Fair Labor Standards Act, and has also purchased new payroll software to prevent this from happening again. This problem arose from factors that were unique to the Fire Dept., and we do not believe that similar issues exist for any other City departments. While the City certainly did not do this intentionally, I think this is a reminder of why collective bargaining rights and strong labor laws are so important for working people. I voted Yes to provide our firefighters with the back pay they were owed.

Hire City Manager Search Consultant: YES (Passed 7-0)

In December 2020, our current City Manager Mike Angeli announced his intent to retire at the end of May 2021, and the City Commission formed a subcommittee consisting of Commissioners Davis, Mayer, and Stonehouse to develop a process for hiring our next City Manager. They issued a Request for Proposals seeking a consultant to help the City attract a large and diverse pool of applicants, and received 6 responses. The subcommittee recommended Walsh Municipal Services, LLC as being a truly outstanding applicant based on their scope of services, proposed process, favorable references, and their expertise in municipal executive recruitment in Michigan. I was also impressed with their emphasis on diversity and inclusion of women in the City Manager search process – 3 of the last 6 municipal managers they have helped Michigan communities hire have been women. I’m sad to see Mr. Angeli go, but I have every confidence that Walsh will help us attract an excellent pool of talent from which we will hire our next City Manager.

Rezone 5 Properties as Medium Density Residential: YES (Passed 7-0)

The City approved a new Land Development Code and zoning map in February 2019, and inevitably a very small number of properties were improperly rezoned as part of this very large and complicated process. In this case, 5 residential properties adjacent to NMU’s campus were unfortunately rezoned as “Civic” (i.e., for public use), because the City mistakenly believed that they were part of NMU’s campus, which is all zoned Civic as well. However, they are in fact all privately-owned single-family homes, are definitely not part of NMU’s campus, and are located in a neighborhood which is zoned Medium Density Residential (i.e., allowing single-family homes as a permitted use and duplexes and ADUs as a special land use). This was simply a common-sense vote to correct this simply mistake and rezone all 5 properties as Medium Density Residential.

Marquette Housing FAQs, Part 1: Why does the Housing Committee exist?

DISCLAIMER: This blog is written by Marquette City Commissioner Evan Bonsall, who also serves as the Chair of the City of Marquette Ad Hoc Housing Committee. The views expressed in this blog are his own, and do not represent the views or imply the official endorsement of the Ad Hoc Housing Committee, the Marquette City Commission, or any of the individual members of the Ad Hoc Housing Committee or City Commission.

Over the next few weeks, I will be sharing a series of 100% factual, non-sensationalized, spin-free blog posts answering some “Frequently Asked Questions” about the recent Marquette Ad Hoc Housing Committee Initial Report[i], and about housing in Marquette in general. For today, I will start at the beginning:

Q: Why was the Housing Committee formed, and when?

A: When I was elected to the City Commission in 2019, my top priority was making housing more affordable for everyday Marquette residents. A true housing affordability crisis existed in the City of Marquette, and little has changed since then – the median sale price of a single-family home has risen from about $175,000 in 2015 to $220,000 in 2020[ii]; median rent rose 21% from 2015-2019 alone[iii]; 1 in 6 Marquette homeowners and 55% of Marquette renters are “cost-burdened,” meaning they are forced to spend more than 30% of their income on housing[iv]; median incomes had risen 36% in Marquette County from 2000-2017, but during that same time period median home values rose 85% and home sale prices rose 68%[v]; the homeownership rate for Marquette residents ages 25-34 was just 8.9% in 2017, nearly 4 times lower than the national average of 34%[vi]; and there was mounting statistical and anecdotal evidence that young people and working-class families with children were leaving Marquette to find more affordable housing elsewhere, a trend which has only accelerated in the past year.

From the start of my campaign,[vii] I had stated my intent to form an Ad Hoc Housing Committee if elected. This committee would study the issue of housing affordability in Marquette and report back to the City Commission with a set of policy recommendations. Barely 2 months after being elected, I had worked with Mayor Jenna Smith to create the Housing Committee and had been appointed to serve on it myself – I was later elected chair of the Housing Committee at our first meeting in March 2020. We stopped meeting from April-July 2020 due to COVID-19, but resumed meeting via video conference on a monthly basis in August 2020. We have met 9 times in total.


Q: How was the membership of the Housing Committee decided, and by whom?

A: The Housing Committee is composed of 8 Marquette residents with a wide range of experience and knowledge. Members were appointed by the City Commission as part of an open application process, with most representing existing City committees or specific areas of expertise, but with 2 of the 8 seats reserved for everyday Marquette residents. The Committee ended up including lifelong Marquette residents and relative newcomers, residents of all ages and incomes, homeowners, landlords, renters, and people with extensive experience in planning and zoning, low-income housing, housing development, real estate, Brownfield redevelopment, housing-related community organizing, and more.[viii] The Housing Committee is NOT just a cabal of developers, landlords, and real estate agents – it is a diverse group that truly represents the larger Marquette community.


Q: What was the Housing Committee’s mission, and what tasks was it assigned?

A: The Housing Committee was tasked with studying the housing challenges facing the City of Marquette, and reporting back to the City Commission with a set of policy recommendations intended to increase housing affordability and housing choice in Marquette. Our sole purpose was to find ways to make housing more affordable and increase housing options for Marquette residents, NOT to help landlords or developers make money (they’re doing just fine on their own) and NOT to increase the City tax base. We were required to submit an Initial Report of Findings[ix] to the City Commission by Jan. 15, 2021 (essentially a polished draft designed to elicit constructive feedback from the Commission, the public, and various City departments). Our Final Report is due to the City Commission before the Housing Committee dissolves on June 30, 2021. The report that was submitted to the City Commission last month is an INITIAL report – that’s why it says “Initial Report of Findings” right on the title page. This is something that some people unfortunately seem to have overlooked.

Finally, it is important to remember that even the Housing Committee’s Final Report will not include mandates or final decisions, but recommendations – the Housing Committee is a temporary advisory board, and does not have the power to make policy. That power ultimately lies with the City Commission alone.

If you have any questions, concerns, or ideas about the Housing Committee’s Initial Report, suggestions for the Final Report, or any special knowledge or experience that you would like to share with the Committee, please reach out to me at ebonsall@marquettemi.gov or (906) 236-0247. And don’t forget to check back here and on my Facebook page at www.facebook.com/evanbonsall4mqt for future housing-related blog posts!


Sources:

[i] “City of Marquette Ad-Hoc Housing Committee Initial Report of Findings.” Ad Hoc Housing Committee, City of Marquette. 15 January 2021. https://www.marquettemi.gov/wp-content/uploads/2021/01/Marquette-Ad-Hoc-Housing-Committee-Report-to-the-City-Commission-01-15-21.pdf

[ii] “Neighborhood Report – Marquette, Michigan.” Upper Peninsula Assn. of Realtors and Stephanie Jones, Realtor. 8 Sep. 2020. Appendix B in Housing Committee Initial Report of Findings.

[iii] 2015 and 2019 American Community Survey 5-Year Estimates, U.S. Census Bureau.

[iv] 2019 American Community Survey 5-Year Estimates, U.S. Census Bureau.

[v] “Housing Market Assessment – Marquette County.” Central Upper Peninsula Planning and Development Commission (CUPPAD), Dec. 2020, pp. 25.

[vi] “City of Marquette Ad-Hoc Housing Committee Initial Report of Findings.” Ad Hoc Housing Committee, City of Marquette. 15 January 2021.

[vii] https://www.evanbonsall.com/issues/

[viii] https://www.marquettemi.gov/adhochousingcommittee/

[ix] “City of Marquette Ad-Hoc Housing Committee Initial Report of Findings.” Ad Hoc Housing Committee, City of Marquette. 15 January 2021.