MICHIGAN CITY — Lack of housing is among the top issues facing the city in the six to 18 months, according to Economic Development Corp. Michigan City Executive Director Clarence Hulse.

Hulse gave the City Council a six-month update Thursday on his agency’s economic development progress.

The city has four multi-family mixed-use projects in the pipeline for the city’s downtown, a total of more than 500 units. The estimated cost is $300 million for the projects, which will bring a projected 175 permanent jobs, Hulse told the council.

In addition, a residential land inventory is underway to see where the city owns land appropriate for residential use that could be developed.

The Economic Development Corp. is recruiting developers to build housing, including workforce housing, in the city. Hulse wants to market those properties to prospective investors for single-family homes, duplexes and townhomes.

Vibrant Communities of LaPorte County recently released a housing study that shows 42% of the county’s homes were built before 1960, compared to the state average of 33%.

Michigan City houses 46% of the county’s renters. Just over half of the city’s residents own their own homes, according to the study.

More than 71% of the city’s homes are valued at $100,000 or less, with another 15% at $100,000 to $150,000.

Houses are being built for $500,000 to $700,000, Councilman Don Przybylinski, D-at large, noted. “Are we looking at housing that people can actually afford?”

Taking stock of housing needs

The city doesn’t need to worry about high-end housing. Those are being built north of U.S. 12, Hulse said. But the city does need to focus on affordable and workforce housing, with prices up to $200,000, he said. “We want to make sure people aren’t priced out of the market.”

Identifying city-owned property that could be used for these homes will help. “We do want to make sure we provide houses that people can afford who work here,” Hulse said.

Councilman Paul Przybylinski, D-2nd, asked about the four multi-family mixed-use projects planned. “Are they on big tracts of land?” he asked. “If we overload an area with a housing project, we could overload a whole area’s elementary school and throw the whole school system into chaos,” he said.

The four large projects are being built downtown. That’s part of the lure of the South Shore Line Double Track project that will speed travel to Chicago by rail. Being about an hour away will make Michigan City a more lucrative option for commuters.

Single-family homes and townhomes will be scattered across city, Hulse said.

The Economic Development Corp. is also working on a study of wages and benefits in LaPorte, St. Joseph and Elkhart counties. That will help determine if companies need to compensate employees better to retain them.

Over the past six months, a lot of help-wanted signs have been posted in front of businesses. Many firms are short-staffed, especially in restaurant and retail, he noted. “There’s a lot of good-paying jobs right now across the board.”

Availability of affordable child care is another issue affecting the workforce.

Councilwoman Dalia Zygas said the city needs additional providers and to build capacity at existing providers. Getting employers to offer credits to lower the cost would help, she said.

Council Vice President Angie Deuitch, D-at large, said Indiana will have a large amount available through a Child Care Development Grant program. “There’s going to be a lot of opportunities for day care providers to increase the number of seats they have” as well as offer signing bonuses for workers, she said.

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