Want to Live Out in the Country? Michigan’s Small Towns Are About to Get a Little Bigger.

By Kyle Kaminski

October 3, 2023

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s administration wants to help grow rural communities across Michigan—and $1 million in grants will help ensure small towns are ready for big developments.

MICHIGAN—More than $1 million in grants awarded last week through the state Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (MDARD) will help build homes, improve infrastructure, and ultimately boost the economies across more than a dozen of Michigan’s smaller communities.

“These grants represent a critical step forward in addressing the significant housing, infrastructure, and other challenges facing our rural communities,” MDARD Director Tim Boring said Friday in a statement announcing the Rural Readiness Grant Program awards. 

All told, MDARD’s Office of Rural Development awarded 21 grants. Gov. Gretchen Whitmer created the office via executive order last year specifically to focus on the “strategic needs of rural Michigan,” including improving economic and workforce development, infrastructure, public health, housing support, and environmental sustainability. 

State officials reviewed over 90 grant requests, and nearly a third of them sought funding to build more homes in rural communities. In response, the Michigan State Housing Development Authority also chipped in funds to help award a total of more than $1 million through 21 grants.

The projects picked to receive grant funding were selected, in part, based on their ability to “prepare communities for future investment”—namely by “activating specific sites throughout Michigan for housing and economic development,” according to state officials.

Sarah Lucas, the director of MDARD’s Office of Rural Development, said many rural communities lack the “organizational capacity” to plan for new projects, grants, and investment.

“As a new resource for Michigan, we are thrilled to be able to support those activities,” she said. 

Whitmer announced the grant program in April as a way to empower “community-specific solutions” that lead to development in rural areas. In a statement, Boring said the grants will lead to more “shovel-ready projects” that will create economic opportunities in small towns.

“With Governor Whitmer’s continued budget investments and MSHDA’s partnership, MDARD and ORD can expand our reach even further,” Boring said in a statement last week. “These investments are another step in building the long-term vitality of those local economies.”

Here’s a quick overview of the grant awards and their intended purpose from MDARD:

  • Allegan County Community Foundation received $50,000 for a “multi-jurisdictional housing needs assessment and data-informed development.”
  • Chamber Alliance of Mason County received $50,000 for “multi-jurisdictional ‘housing readiness’ activities, including community education on a housing needs assessment, work with local governments on zoning and incentives, and county-wide identification of development opportunities.”
  • Develop Iosco received $50,000 to “build cross-sector community capacity for grant-ready projects.”
  • Durand received $49,200 to “prepare and advance pedestrian safety strategies.”
  • Fremont Area Community Foundation received $50,000 to “complete a comprehensive multi-community individualized growth assessment that informs customized community plans.”
  • Habitat for Humanity of Lenawee County received $50,000 for “expansion of a home repair program.”
  • Huron County Economic Development Corp. received $50,000 to “build county-wide capacity for grant identification, writing, and management.”
  • Interlochen Center for the Arts received $50,000 for “housing pre-development activities in partnership with regional schools and other community partners.”
  • Ionia received $50,000 for “pre-development activities associated with the redevelopment of the former Deerfield and Riverside Correctional Facilities.”
  • Ironwood received $50,000 for a “housing needs assessment and strategic housing plan.”
  • Mackinaw City received $37,800 to “prepare and package village-owned parcels for housing redevelopment.”
  • Market Van Buren received $50,000 for a “county-wide housing market analysis and strategic housing plan.”
  • Marquette County Land Bank Authority received $50,000 to “identify and advance shovel-ready housing projects.”
  • Northeast Michigan Council of Governments received $50,000 to “support local governments with grant projects that prioritize identified economic development and planning projects.”
  • Peninsula Housing received $50,000 to “create a community-supported development plan for affordable housing solutions.”
  • Petoskey received $50,000 for a “multi-jurisdictional water and wastewater infrastructure expansion assessment.”
  • Target Alpena Development Corp. received $50,000 to “support collaborative planning and action for housing inclusivity, affordability, revitalization, and sustainable growth.”
  • Union Charter Township received $45,000 to “expand industrial, research, and business park development along the US-127 corridor.”
  • Western U.P. Planning and Development Region Commission received $50,000 to “activate the L’Anse Area Community Development Corporation and prepare for development and redevelopment on priority properties.”
  • Wexford Joint Planning Commission received $25,000 to “support joint planning and zoning efforts that build readiness across 10 townships.”
  • Wexford Osceola Habitat For Humanity received $50,000 for “pre-development activities associated with multi-home development in two counties.”

READ MORE: New Bill from Slotkin Backs Michigan Farmers’ Repair Rights

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  • Kyle Kaminski

    Kyle Kaminski is an award-winning investigative journalist with more than a decade of experience covering news across Michigan. Prior to joining The ‘Gander, Kyle worked as the managing editor at City Pulse in Lansing and as a reporter for the Traverse City Record-Eagle.

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