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Proposal could bring smaller homes, solve housing problems in Muskegon

The proposed zoning change would reduce minimum square footage from 850 to 550 square feet.

MUSKEGON, Mich. — The discussion over whether to allow smaller homes in the City of Muskegon moved forward this week.

The idea came as part of a larger effort to ease the housing crunch.

The city held a public outreach campaign to garner opinions on either side of the proposed zoning change and said reception to the idea had proven largely positive thus far.

Some locals worried, however, that too much of a good thing – in this case, a greater level of flexibility with regard to the design and construction of a new home – could be a bad thing.  

“We've got a housing crisis in the City of Muskegon and across the country,” Muskegon Mayor Ken Johnson explained. “We're just continuously looking.”

If adopted, the proposed change to city building code would downsize the current minimum square footage for houses built within city limits from 850 square feet to 550 square feet.

“It's part of an ongoing, multi-year process by the city to increase opportunities and options and housing,” Johnson said.

The idea’s not unique or untested.

In response to the national housing crunch, many communities have moved away from conventional homes and begun to think smaller.

The authors of a 2019 housing study found that while Muskegon had a strong rental market, existing multi-family options had failed to hit the mark.

Instead, the study found an “overall shortage across all sectors that will need to be addressed.”

The current proposal has been billed as a possible remedy, not merely with regard to multi-family housing, but with lagging inventory in general. 

“The thought is, at the very least, if someone is building, starting out small and maybe that's all they can afford to build,” Johnson said. “I think this is going to create new opportunities for folks that want to live in our city long-term.”

Several hundred vacant or unused lots on city-owned land could prove likely candidates.

“There’s a number of different concerns.”

Chris Willis, a Muskegon resident, spoke with 13 ON YOUR SIDE via Zoom Wednesday.

“We have a number of vacation rentals,” she said. “In moderation, those can be really great.”

She worried the idea could lead to out-of-state developers taking advantage, more part-time residents and less of a focus on actual livability.

“I want to proceed with caution and make sure that we're growing our community with full time residents,” Willis said. “Not just creating busy pockets within our existing neighborhoods.”

On the flip side, Willis said the change could inject a larger number of options into the local housing market for newcomers, in addition to giving the folks who already live within city limits a greater level of flexibility.

“With the cost of homeownership going up and increasing, it makes a lot of sense to allow people… to live and grow our community.”

Another tweak would bump apartments down to a 375 square foot minimum.

That may wind up being a separate discussion when the city commission meets to formally review the zoning change on Aug. 23 at City Hall.


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