While South Haven officials await results of a study indicating the economic impact of short-term rental properties, they have received results of another study examining the overall health of the city’s economy.
Jim Robey, who helped author the study conducted in 2020, presented results of the study to city council members earlier this month. He, along with George Erickcek, who also has retired from the Upjohn Institute, are in the process of completing the latest study focusing on the effects of short-term rentals on the city’s economy. That report is expected to be released in February.
The 2020 community health assessment study, whose release to the city council was put on hold due to the pandemic, indicates the city’s year-round population of about 4,200, is expected to remain constant in the coming years.
However, one of the greatest challenges for the city will be maintaining the year-round population while balancing the competing demand for seasonal and year-round housing, Robey said.
“It is possible that the demand for the city’s recreational amenities will continue to push more of its current and future housing stock to meeting the demand for seasonal visitors at the expense of year-round residents,” Robey wrote in the report. “In the five-year period between 2014 and 2018, 39 percent of South Haven’s 3,423 housing units were vacant sometime during the year. ... If this trend continues, this will cause increased pressure for higher-density housing near the lakeshore and riverfront and the conversion of year-round housing to seasonal use.”
The study also revealed South Haven has a higher percentage of older adults when compared to Van Buren County and the state overall. The median price of homes in South Haven is also higher than the county and state.
“The city’s housing affordability problem is due to both the high demand for lakefront/recreational properties and low earnings by area residents because of the type of jobs being created in the area,” Robey wrote in the report. “In 2019, average weekly wages in Van Buren County reached only $838 compared to $1,057 statewide. In real terms, wages in the county have been slightly falling during the past five years.”
However, Robey said there were some positive outtakes from the study.
“Almost 21 percent of workers in South Haven are in manufacturing jobs,” Robey told city council members at their Jan. 16 meeting.
The other three leading employment sectors are health care and social assistance, retail trade and food and accommodations.
He also noted the majority of job postings in 2019 for restaurants and services were offering full-time work as opposed to part-time employment.
In addition, he said most people who live and work in South Haven commute about 30 minutes or less to their job – as of 2017.
However, the city does have challenges with its aging population and number of homes owned by second homeowners.
It’s something local government may not be able to easily resolve, Robey said.
“It is important to note that many of the challenges facing South Haven and other similar cities are clearly outside the influence of local government,” he noted in the study.
Yet, the study outlines steps the city can consider:
Increase employment opportunities for existing younger residents by stressing the need for them to obtain skills and abilities.
Create an environment in South Haven that attracts individuals who have careers who allow them to work in the areas where they choose to live, such as a lakeshore community like South Haven.
Ensure access to high-quality internet services that is secure and affordable.
Focus on retaining industries that offer year-round employment opportunities. The manufacturing and health care and social assistance industry sectors in the South Haven area comprise 40 percent of employment.
Limit the growth and location of short-term residencies and loosen ordinances in single-family zoning areas to include construction of more affordable housing units.
Robey stressed some of the statistics outlined in the study date back to 2017, when the most current data from U.S. Census figures was available.
He said the pandemic has changed society and the economic climate since that time. For instance, the cost of construction supplies for affordable homes has increased due to supply chain issues, and some adults have been reluctant to reenter the job market, leading to staffing shortages.