Making Dexter more attractive to millennials and a younger crowd in general may be as simple as adding a few townhouses to the city’s housing stock, as indicated in preliminary findings by a city consultant.
Lansing-based LandUse|USA has been hired by the city to investigate the matter of development configuration throughout the city limits. This effort culminated in a presentation or Target Market Analysis presented to Dexter City council members, city administrative staff and any other stakeholders who attended the Wednesday, Oct. 7 presentation at the Dexter District Library.
The analysis is designed to outline the total demand for housing in Dexter compared to the available housing stock by unit type. Dexter was found to have a gap designated as the “missing middle” during the presentation. In this case, that’s townhouses and other mid-market housing types that are friendly to younger, perhaps first time residence seekers.
Chelsea, Saline, and Ypsilanti are also part of the TMA, which was provided by a grant from the Michigan State Housing Development Authority. LandUse|USA consultant Sharon Woods has been visiting the four cities this week sharing the results, which are specific to each community and its perceived needs.
For example, according to the TMA, Dexter could support 100 townhouses of five to nine units over the next five years. The study suggests the city has no vacant units in that townhouse designation.
Other needs include 18 rehab homes or carriage houses over five years, six side-by-side or stack duplexes or 15 side-by-side or stacked tri- or quad-plexes. There are needs for multiplex units, realistically that will be in the 10-19 unit variety.
The Millennial generation is the target group ideally suited for the type of housing the state is pushing. Instead of a nice suburban home, this generation is looking for a “cool, hip loft or apartment” they can impress their friends with.
And even those trends will only have a shelf-life of five to 10 years as each target group changes so quickly it hard to track their transformations over time, Woods said.
As to what rent, people are willing to pay, the study, there will be a demand for 30 units for rent up to $800 for moderate income, while the upscale target group would demand 25 units. As the rent total increases the demand declines with only four units at $1,000 to $1,500 per month for moderate targets and seven for upscale targets.
To get the city ready for any of this, the city council and planning commission have to become collaborators with developers, Woods said. This kind of arrangement will have the city making life easier for the builders.
“You have to find ways of easing development (rules),” Woods said.
For Bernie Glieberman of HRS, the challenge will be convincing residents of the need for higher-density housing. That opposition must be dealt with.
Also important is making sure the ordinance allows the attached housing, the so-called missing middle is allowed.
To help smooth things over, the city must look at the TMA as a guide, while developers should use it as a platform to make sure their projects are in line with state standards, Woods said.
But for now city officials and staff have to go over the full report which will provide more in-depth information for the City Council, Planning Commission and staff to see what the next step will be.
City officials could decide to make adjustments to zoning guidelines to accommodate other types of new construction or to rehabilitate existing stock into different house unit types, based on the findings brought before them, or they could just add the general findings to their existing knowledge-base for use in other considerations, or not at all.
In the report, each community has an advantage listed that makes the town desirable. In Dexter’s case that’s a downtown with a level of vitality not affected by being three miles north of I-94. The city has many historic buildings, several of which are three stories high, a rarity for a town this size.
There are several redevelopment sites along Mill Creek that could be leveraged for significant mixed-use projects with attached residential units. The city’s location along the 35-mile Border-to-Border Trail is another plus.
The city gets a lot of traffic with several thousand two-way trips per day along Baker Road and 65,000 per day at I-94.
The report is laid out in three volumes: The Market Strategy Report, the TMA workbook and the Supply-Demand Workbook. The report is great for developers to read and then come back to the city with ideas for developments.
The TMA’s goal is to determine the demand and need for different types of attached housing in an urban setting. This may require officials challenging their zoning ordinance’s current standards.
That may include allowing flats over garages or homes built at the back of deep lots, Woods said.
“(You) will be going back and really challenging the status quo of what’s allowed,” Woods said.
The lack of flexibility in housing stock could mean the difference of people settling for housing or moving to another town that has was a demographic is looking for, Woods said.