Gov. Whitmer kicks off state tour in Benton Harbor, focus on housing development

NOW: Gov. Whitmer kicks off state tour in Benton Harbor, focus on housing development

BENTON HARBOR, Mich. -- Just hours after delivering her sixth State of the State Address, Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer kicked off a state tour in Benton Harbor, checking out the Emma Jean Hull Flats on Riverview Drive.

Whitmer is pledging to spend $1.4 billion on nearly 10,000 homes in the Mitten State by the end of the year, the largest investment in housing in Michigan history, she said.

"In other words, the rent is too damn high, and the options are too damn few," Whitmer said at the Emma Jean Hull Flats. "And so, we are addressing that!"

The 80-unit apartment complex, built by Whirlpool Corporation and named after Benton Harbor's first female mayor, hit 96% capacity just seven months after opening.

"Demand for housing, it's a boom," said Benton Harbor Mayor Marcus Muhammad.

Leaders lamented Thursday that there are simply not enough safe affordable homes to go around.

"Like so many people who want to live here, they can't afford it, there's not good options for them," State Rep. Joey Andrews said. "And I think that this project, being full in six months, this demonstrates to anybody who's thinking about building something in our twin city area, that the demand is here. If you build it, it will be full, people want to live here."

Not only are homes too few-- they're too expensive.

"I'm a homeowner here, I live just outside the city of St. Joseph, and we bought a house five years ago that, if we were in the market today, we almost certainly wouldn't be able to afford," Andrews said.

He said homes in his district average half a million dollars or more.

"If you're a nurse or a firefighter, if you're a teacher, somebody who works in hospitality, that's just simply unaffordable for you," he said, "pushing people who serve our community out and forcing them to commute more and more, which is a huge problem."

And 50% of the local housing in Michigan, Whitmer said, is more than 50 years old. This rings true in Benton Harbor.

"We have found that the homeowners are suffering from declining infrastructure within their homes," Muhammad said.

Some progress is already being made, like the "hometown hero" subsidy offered at the Emma Jean Hull Flats, which gives people eligible, like Chere Alhoun, a 30% discount on rent.

"I am an eighth-grade special education resource teacher at Fairplain Middle School," Alhoun said. "And without Emma Jean Hull Flats, I would have had to continue to commute over 60 miles back and forth to South Haven."

But Whitmer says more Michiganders should have better housing options by the end of this year.

"2024, we are going to make the largest investment to build housing in Michigan history," she said.

At Thursday's event, the Michigan State Housing Development Authority presented a check for $300,000 to the Berrien County Land Bank Authority, to help build or rehab local houses this year, helping reach the 10,000 new home goal.

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