CADILLAC — Can you afford it? Is it close enough to work? Do you want to live there? Is it safe?

They’re all questions you might ask yourself when you’re looking for a place to rent.

They’re also questions community leaders try to address in various ways, including inspections and regional studies.

The Cadillac News spoke to officials and regional experts about the rental situation in the Cadillac area to understand more about the cost of rent, how a unit comes onto the market as a rental, and the quality of the housing stock in the Cadillac area.

INSPECTIONS AND QUALITY

Assuming you’re not receiving public assistance to pay for your home (vouchers often have an inspection component), whether the rental you’re living in has been inspected and deemed good enough by somebody from the government depends on whether you’re living inside certain city or township boundaries. Rules vary.

In Cadillac, rentals are supposed to be registered. Certificates of registration are good for three years, and the process of getting registered includes an inspection from the fire department.

But move just a couple of townships over, and it’s possible nobody has given permission for the unit to be rented, other than the owner.

“I am not aware of any of the participating municipalities within the Wexford Joint Planning Commission jurisdiction that have any rental regulation, licensing, or inspection ordinances — with the exception of applicable zoning ordinances that cover short term rentals as a special use,‘ said Bob Hall, zoning administrator for the Wexford JPC.

In Cadillac, where Census data puts the number of renter-occupied houses at just under half, 47%, there are 1,000 registered rental units, according to City Manager Marcus Peccia.

“While I believe most rental property owners are familiar with the city’s rental housing requirements, there are times when a unit is discovered to be unregistered,‘ Peccia said in an email.

When that happens, the city tries to get the property owner to voluntarily comply with inspection and registration requirements. If the property owner doesn’t comply, they may receive a civil infraction.

“It used to be a misdemeanor offense; however, a misdemeanor charge is much more complex and time-consuming whereas a civil infraction is more appropriate and effective,‘ Peccia noted. “As previously stated, voluntary compliance is our goal when working with anyone.‘

While the city does not get involved in landlord-tenant disputes, there is a process for reporting safety issues.

“If issues arise between inspection cycles, the city has an easy-to-use complaint process for occupants to report any concerns,‘ Peccia said. “Once reported, the Fire Department follows up with an investigation and requires remedial actions be taken, if applicable.‘ (On the city’s website, under a section for business documents, there’s a link to a PDF for rental complaints, https://www.cadillac-mi.net/DocumentCenter/View/1050/Rental-Complaint-Form?bidId= ).

Regionally, it can be difficult to pin down just how good — or bad — of shape housing units are in.

“A lot of people are concerned about housing quality ... and it’s a difficult thing to quantify,‘ said Sarah Lucas, Executive Director of Housing North, a year-old organization that works on housing solutions, focusing on barriers to housing. Housing North’s service area includes Wexford and Missaukee counties, “from Manistee to Missaukee up to the bridge,‘ as Lucas puts it.

Lucas told the Cadillac News in a phone interview that the studies that would be able to categorize housing quality take a lot of time and resources and have not been done (studies have looked into rental prices, which will be addressed later in this story). It’s believed, but cannot be proved, that rentals are aging and quality is falling.

THE COST OF RENT

How much can you afford to spend on rent? Traditional financial advice usually suggests spending less than one-third of your monthly post-tax income on rent.

A recent housing study from 2017 forecasted that the median household income in the city of Cadillac would be $41,447 this year, and just under $47,000 for the broader Cadillac area, according to a copy of the study provided to the Cadillac News by Lisa Leedy, executive director of the Alliance for Economic Success, which commissioned the study.

The same study found that, in Wexford County, there would be demand for 785 extra rental units in 2020, Lucas said.

“You would be able to fill them,‘ Lucas explained. The catch? The demand is mostly for units priced under $800 a month. “That seems to be where the biggest gap is.‘

Lucas said there are several ways communities can try to “infill‘ the need for housing without the need for massive new building projects.

Some single-family homes can be converted to multi-family homes. Other homes can add “granny flats‘ or accessory units, like carriage houses converted into living space. Those approaches can gradually meet the need for housing stock.

“That’s an approach a lot of communities are interested in,‘ Lucas said. But it usually requires zoning changes — and the political will to support the zoning changes.

Another approach some communities are interested in includes changing commercial spaces into residential spaces. It can make sense because the infrastructure is already there, Lucas explained.

Lucas’s organization, Housing North, recently launched an awareness campaign to share the idea that the housing shortage in northwest Michigan can be solved.

“By working with developers, making common sense updates to zoning and helping employers and citizens to create new housing options, we can ensure that our communities remain places where all people can live, work, raise families and thrive,‘ the organization states on its website, https://www.homesforourfuture.org.

ABOUT SHORT-TERM RENTALS

While short-term rentals are a source of worry and contribute to the housing shortage in the resort towns to the north of Cadillac, there’s not much evidence that they’re affecting people here yet.

Cadillac has no ordinance forbidding or permitting short-term rentals; in the broader Wexford JPC, short-term rentals require a special use permit but tend to be for higher-end and waterfront homes, Hall said.

Cadillac News