By Dominic Cippola, CEDAM
In order for a community development project to succeed, a lot must happen behind the scenes. In the case of Manistee, Lissette Reyes shares what it was like to be one of the drivers behind the advancement of the city’s housing awareness efforts.
I virtually sat down with Reyes, a member of the first cohort of CEDAM’s Community Development Fellowship from 2018-19. She provided me with further insight into how she made a long-lasting impact in her host community.
Reyes was placed in Manistee, one of ten Project Rising Tide communities, and worked with city staff and local leaders as the community leveraged technical assistance to set the stage for the future of economic development in the city. Through participation in the Rising Tide program, Manistee identified four priorities: general economic development, board training and development, branding and marketing, and housing.
“Housing was one of four priorities,” said Reyes. “To improve the housing environment, it was just a matter of establishing the need and starting an action plan.”
In order to understand the need for affordable housing in Manistee, CEDAM member Housing North, a nonprofit organization dedicated to housing efforts, was hired to assist in developing an action plan.
“To do so, we led focus groups and held interviews with key community players and individuals like business leaders, education directors, and employers to get a good picture of Manistee,” said Reyes. “We then ran a young professional survey which was useful to understand the mindset of young professionals and their families regarding housing.”
“The community was super responsive when it came to every survey, focus group and event,” she continued, “They were great at making sure that they were involved.”
Using data from these efforts, Lissette and Housing North were able to put together an effective action plan. In October of 2019, she presented the housing action plan, along with two other documents, to the city council, who unanimously voted in support. The plan includes a number of action items, such as:
- Develop a shared housing vision
- Apply for neighborhood improvement funds
- Establish a standard PILOT approval process
- Provide gap funding to leverage investment
- Establish enterprise zones
- And more!
“It helped that there was a ton of support from the county and the city,” Reyes emphasized. “Because of that, it was super clear how much of a priority this was.”
Support from the city was critical, but getting buy-in from the community was equally as important. Another key role she played in Manistee was hosting the Housing Matters Community Forum, a community-wide event to help build support for affordable housing. At the event, she worked with Housing North and the Manistee Area Chamber of Commerce to put stories and faces to those who would benefit—including teachers, as well as childcare, healthcare, and construction workers.
In 2020, the global COVID-19 pandemic halted the momentum they built to carry out the action plan, but Reyes gives a lot of credit to the city and Housing North for continuing progress after restrictions were lifted.
“I don’t want to take all the credit for bringing attention. The community really did a great job at reprioritizing housing, along with Housing North” she said, “Seeing the efforts as a united front really did a lot. This project started in 2019, and now, in 2022, it is finally really getting going.”
From her work on the action plan came the recommendation for a new position in Manistee. This came to fruition, recently, as Housing North brought on a Housing Ready Program Coordinator for Manistee County. The coordinator will be a catalyst for housing solutions and a principal point of contact within the community for information, tools, and potential solutions needed to effectively address housing challenges.
Reflecting on her time in Manistee, Reyes pointed to collaboration and building a locally-led vision for the community as two important factors for success.
“One solution does not necessarily fit every community because needs are different, demographics are different, and realities are different in each place you go. For that reason, as is the case of Manistee, coming together to understand housing was a priority for community growth altogether. Communicating and collaborating were the starting points that led to planning for the solutions that will build their future.”
Housing North is currently preparing for their 8th annual Northwest Michigan Housing Summit, which will be held in person this year on October 27-28 at the Great Wolf Lodge in Traverse City. They are planning for a robust schedule including an update from state and local agencies on housing tools and resources, workshops, and panel discussions on housing advocacy, tools, and solutions with regional and local experts.