Charlevoix is booming but it can’t find homes for teachers, or families
- Some northern Michigan schools are struggling to fill teaching and other critical jobs because of housing shortages
- Homes in tourist-heavy communities are being bought up as second homes and for short-term rentals
- Community leaders are looking for ways to increase housing options for full-time residents
CHARLEVOIX COUNTY --- Noah Williamson was excited when he received a job offer to become a special education teacher in Boyne City next fall.
Then he tried to find a place to live.
The 22-year-old Grand Rapids native, who is graduating from Ohio Northern University this month, found few apartments or homes for rent, and those that were on the market cost too much.
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“Apartment (managers) said they couldn’t get me in until at least October and then it wasn’t a guarantee, I would be on a wait list,” Williamson said. “Homes were $2,000 a month. I’m an entry-level teacher, I’m 22 years old, I can’t afford that.
“If I can get the job but if I don’t have a place to live, it’s not feasible,” Williamson said. “I’m not going to live in my car.”
Schools are struggling to fill some positions across Michigan. But here in Charlevoix County, in the heart of Up North tourist country, that shortage is magnified by a lack of affordable places to live.
Districts are fielding fewer applicants for positions because of concern over housing, and some applicants who accept jobs later back out because they can’t find a place to live. Some have turned to social media and informal school email chains to plead for help finding housing for new employees moving from outside the area.
It's a situation school and community leaders expect to get worse, as more and more housing stock is scooped up as second homes of downstaters, and by investors using homes for short-term vacation rentals.
The popularity of Michigan’s northern tourist towns is making those communities difficult to live in for the workaday people needed to keep those communities running, including school personnel.
“I thought I might need to back out,” said Williamson, who recently found an apartment with a roommate. “I’m not sure if I’d have looked into it this extensively before, if I would have accepted the job.”
Tourists crowding out locals
Charlevoix is a pretty waterfront town in Charlevoix County bordered by Lake Charlevoix on the east and Lake Michigan on the Northwest. In some ways, the town is booming, with property values soaring and a vibrant downtown.
Yet the full-time population is plummeting — dropping 35 percent since 1999.
The reason: many homes that come on the market (The median price is now $389,000, up 19 percent in the past year) are purchased not by local residents, but by people seeking a summer second home Up North. Only 35 percent of homes in Charlevoix have a homestead exemption — the lower property tax rate given residents who claim the city as their primary residence. The rest are second homes occupied primarily in the summer, or rental properties.
And most rental properties are short-term rentals to tourists, which can be more profitable than year-round rental.
“You have a big house, it could be thousands for a week,” said Mike Hinkle, president of Charlevoix State Bank. “You do that for three months in the summer, you don’t have any headaches for the rest of the year.”
Those short-term rentals affect more than schools.
“We hired a person (at the bank) a year or two ago, started working with us, moved in with a relative, and couldn’t find housing,” Hinkle said. “This person’s spouse was offered a job downstate, and they moved. They wanted to stay.
“It’s become a regular occurrence,” Hinkle said. “Helping people find housing is now part of the H.R. function.”
Luther Kurtz, former mayor of Charlevoix, said that from his house he can’t see another home that is lived in year-round.
“We love our seasonal friends,” Kurtz said. “They like the views here, but they also like the community. And you need a certain core amount of people that live here year-round to create that community feel.”
Even modest homes are being scooped up by part-time residents, or middle to high-middle income residents who can’t find other housing, said Mark Snyder, of Team O’Brien Realty in Charlevoix.
The one mobile home park in the city, Charlevoix Estates, used to have single-wide mobile homes that could be purchased for $30,000. Now, they’re selling for $120,000. Snyder said he knows of several doctors from the local hospital, Munson Healthcare, who live in the mobile home park because they can’t find housing they can afford.
“We typically can find something” for teachers and others moving into the area, Snyder said, but “it’s not always what they want. We’ve had some situations where candidates for jobs in the community just couldn’t identify housing and chose not to accept the position.”
Some long-time residents have left, too, said Hinkle, the banker. “I coach the high school wrestling team and I’ve lost two wrestlers due to housing,” he said. “The families lost their leases.”
Enrollment at Charlevoix Public Schools has nosedived 44 percent since 2005, down to 806 students in the 2022-23 school year in kindergarten through 12th grade.
“It’s not just the teachers, it’s the families,” Hinkle said. “It’s something we have to fix.”
Big impact on kids
Stephanie Kosdrosky was lucky last fall when she graduated from Wayne State University and accepted a job with the Charlevoix Emmet Intermediate School District as a speech and language pathologist. Kosdrosky’s boyfriend already was living in Petoskey, in Emmet County, and she was able to move in with him.
Some of her colleagues who have been hired in recent years are living in converted garages. One lives in a cabin owned by a longtime school employee.
“I know housing is very difficult,” Kosdrosky said. “In interviews (with speech and language pathology candidates), we have to talk about it.”
Kosdrosky, who works with preschool children who have speech difficulties, has seen her caseload double since last September because the ISD has three openings for speech and language pathologists it hasn’t been able to fill.
“You’re working on the weekends on paperwork, taking calls in the evening, even though your contracted hours stop at 3:30,” Kosdrosky said.
“Not only does it impact caseloads, but it (impacts) being able to maintain a strong relationship with teachers. When you’re short of SLPs (speech and language pathologists), teachers get stressed and quit. I had a preschool classroom shut down for two weeks because the teacher quit, and then parents can’t go to work.
“There’s a ripple effect,” she said. “It makes you feel like you’re letting the community down.”
Scott Koziol, superintendent of Charlevoix-Emmet ISD, which provides services for local public school districts in those two counties, said the shortage of speech and language pathologists can have a long-term impact on children in the area.
“If we aren’t able to address the speech and language issue early on, it creates many more issues later,” Koziol said. “We’d love to be able to address those issues as early on as possible. If you’re working with a super high case load...it definitely becomes challenging. We’re stretched thin.”
Jill Haan, director of early childhood education for the ISD, calls the school hiring struggles in her county a “perfect storm” of national negative perceptions about teachers, the remoteness of Northern Michigan from the state’s large population centers and, now, the scarcity of housing.
“It’s crazy how much effort it takes to find housing,” she said.
Deed changes, signing bonuses
Charlevoix leaders are searching for ways to increase housing for full-time residents. The site of the city’s former public works building, now a patch of dirt and grass overlooking Ferry Beach on the shore of Lake Charlevoix, may be zoned to allow apartments, with a deed restriction requiring residents to live in the community at least 10 months of the year. Kurtz, the former mayor, said a proposal to allow apartments on the site could be on the ballot this November.
The site could hold between 16 and 32 housing units, Kurtz said. The units would not be subsidized and, because they’d include a view of Lake Charlevoix, the cost might still price out some residents. But new housing could loosen up the market, Kurtz said.
Charlevoix also is trying to expand deed restrictions on other properties to require full-time residency. Those deed restrictions would be voluntary.
“It’s dire,” Kurtz said. “Without changes. the (sense of) community is going to disappear in a couple decades.”
In Boyne City, about 17 miles away, a new mobile home park is being built that should expand the housing market for that tourist-heavy community. And the school district is offering a $5,000 signing bonus for new employees to use to help ease the pain of moving to the area.
“Housing is one of the first questions we ask about in interviews -- it makes it more difficult for someone to accept a job, said Pat Little, superintendent of Boyne City Public Schools. “Everyone loves to come here but not everyone can afford to live here.”
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