Leelanau News and Events

USDA Grant To Sleeping Bear Gateways Council Will Address Seasonal Worker Housing

Aug. 20, 2021

A cooperative effort led by the nonprofit Sleeping Bear Gateways Council (SBGC) is bringing federal assistance to address a critical shortage of seasonal worker housing in Leelanau and Benzie counties.

“SBGC is seeking a part-time project manager to continue with our seasonal workforce housing initiative,” Mike Rivard, Glen Arbor resident and Sleeping Bear Gateways Council tells the Leelanau Ticker. To fund this position, “we have received a grant from the USDA Rural Business Development Program as well as matching grants from Rotary Charities and The Community Foundation, in addition to our own nonprofit funds.”

The council’s mission is to address summer growing pains and infrastructure gaps in gateway communities (those within 60 miles of the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore).

Earlier this summer, the United States Department of Agriculture announced that SBGC has been awarded a $90,000 Rural Business Development Grant. The project will support SBGC’s efforts to develop housing solutions for seasonal employees needed to serve local residents and visitors. Local contributions from the Grand Traverse Community Foundation, Rotary Charities and SBGC bring the total project funds to $121,000, over a two-year period.

A “perfect storm” has been brewing in villages near the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, making it difficult — and sometimes impossible — for potential summer employees to rent in those gateway communities: the factors include rising real estate prices, competition from short- and long-term vacation rentals, and an overall housing shortage.

Rivard notes, “Some businesses have gone so far as to purchase buildings for rental to employees. Others have been forced to cut hours or limit services because they are unable to hire enough employees.”

The grant will allow SBGC to contract with a project manager to focus on types of housing to meet the needs of employers and communities, and on the transportation and financing plans required. Long-term solutions could potentially include a mix of new construction targeted to seasonal workers, expansion of “work camping” space, repurposing of some motel rooms, and other actions.

The manager will also work to expand SBGC’s seasonal employee housing exchange, a grassroots effort which works with employers and “landlords” to match employees with currently available rental space.

SBGC will be considering qualified candidates for the position on September 1, 2021. Interested parties may view the Request for Proposal here, or contact the organization at RFP@sleepingbeargateways.org.

SBGC was formed in 2018 as a successor to the Citizens Council of the Sleeping Bear Dunes Area, to evaluate environmental and economic impacts of the significant growth of visitors to the area. Rivard notes that key to this growth has been the increase in visitors specifically to the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, which attracted record attendance exceeding 1.7 million visitors to the area in 2020, an increase of more than 27 percent over the past 10 years.


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