Marquette city manager addresses affordable housing in the city

Public transit provides possible solution in local housing crisis.
LOCAL HOUSING — The city of Marquette has faced several challenges regarding affordability in the area.
LOCAL HOUSING — The city of Marquette has faced several challenges regarding affordability in the area.
North Wind Archives

The lack of affordable housing and access to transportation is heavy on the minds of NMU students, impacting many facets of student life on campus and within the greater Marquette community.

The lack of housing in the Marquette area is at the forefront of city hall discussions. City Manager Karen Kovacs said the topic of affordable housing is one discussed daily at City Hall. 

Kovacs explained that 48% of housing units in Marquette are owner-occupied, meaning that over 50% of housing units in the city are rentals. Kovacs said this has brought a sense of vibrancy to the many neighborhoods of the city, but it has also come with its own set of challenges. 

One of these is increasing rent values for college students, who largely work minimum wage jobs on campus, at local coffee shops and chain department stores.

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“We are looking at how we can continue to enhance those property values without just continuing to increase rent,” Kovacs said. “Because that’s part of our issue too, I see high rents in pretty crummy conditions, and there [are] high rents there because there’s a desperate need. There’s a desperate market there for rentals.”


Affordable Housing in Marquette County

Currently, Marquette does not have the resources to make an impact in local housing needs, Kovacs said. 

“The problems continue to persist, but yet the funding is just still lagging and to sit there and wait until the economy adjusts itself or the market adjusts itself just seems almost irresponsible,” Kovacs said. “But yet you sit here, and you feel so helpless, seeing some of the issues that are coming forward.”

The city is looking at solving housing through a regional approach, going all in with surrounding areas, cities, and townships of Marquette County. 

“That allows us to look at our region and our stats and everybody looking at the same source,” Kovacs said. “The county is performing a target market analysis that is going to look at our area and what we need and create this document of here’s what we have right now, here’s what we could do and here’s what future development of this kind would do for that impact and that has been close to being completed.”

Within the city of Marquette, Kovacs anticipates the addition of 300-400 housing units in the next 5-7 years including projects in Forestville Township and near the intersection of Lakeshore Boulevard and Hawley Street.  

“We do need to do something, but it has to be a collaborative effort,” Kovacs said. “It affects our population, and our population affects our housing. It affects future growth.” 


Economic factors of local housing issues

Another problem facing Marquette is the tourism industry and the relocation of remote workers to the area. According to Kovacs, short-term rentals, such as Airbnbs and Vrbos, are taking away from the people living in the area and their needs, a problem facing residents of all industries and income levels.

“I had a director of a company call me in tears because she’s losing workers, she’s recruiting people and she can’t get them to stay because they can’t find housing,” Kovacs said.

Kovacs shared her own struggles of finding housing when she first took the position as city manager. 

“I had my city commission begging me to make sure that I didn’t leave because I couldn’t find housing,” Kovacs said. “They were going to house me in our HR director’s basement, they were putting me in hotels. I paid for hotels for two months to stay there and that was in the peak of tourism [season].” 


Public transportation as a solution

Kovacs suggested looking into public transportation while the city awaits new rentals and housing projects. 

In order to save money on rent, many students look for cheaper rentals in the surrounding areas of Negaunee and Ishpeming, but there is no public transportation system to bring these students to NMU’s campus or to the city.   

“We are looking at advocating for enhanced transportation or improving the transportation system that we do have,” Kovacs said. “I know that Northern does have some transportation, but when we look at public transit in general, that is something we really, really need to look at.”

Transportation would also help with many other issues facing Marquette and surrounding areas, like public parking and the low walkability of certain areas of the county, among many others. Residents would also be able to access grocery stores and medical facilities with public transportation, Kovacs said.

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