Part I: More Housing Choices Are Coming to Ferndale

Housing for All Ferndalians & Income Levels

This is a two part blog post on the development growth spurt and new housing in Ferndale.

In Part One: I explore why new housing projects help the city address housing needs for everyone.

In Part Two: I discuss city initiatives to create inclusive housing policies, and responding to residents questions and/or concerns.


Growth Spurt

Ferndale is growing.  

Our community is a highly desirable place to live–we are #ferndalenormal, walkable and bikeable. We are a “maker” community (vodka, beer, mead, chips, salsa, candles, furniture, etc). The city has easy access to major highways. We are close to Downtown Detroit. Have you seen our bike lanes?

Combined, all these awesomesauce ingredients equal a highly desirable place to live. But now we now have a new challenge –or opportunity.  Half glass full, I say!

After sluggish new housing growth from the Great Recession, we have a housing supply and demand problem.

High demand for multi-family housing – apartments, town homes, condos and lofts (called missing middle housing.  More on this later) and yes, our lovely single-family homes.

Low supply of alternative housing options for seniors that no longer want to take care of their backyard or climb stairs to do their laundry. (check out my post on Age-Friendly Ferndale).

Low supply of multi-family for boomers (retirees), millennials (young professionals and trades people) and our hard working class who make daily living enjoyable (students, restaurant servers, retail workers, teachers, public safety workers, etc).

Have You Heard About the National Housing Crisis?

Rural and urban areas in the US face an affordable housing supply problem.  A little context here:

Silent Housing Crisis: A Snapshot of Current and Future Conditions and here:

Urban Institute Affordable Housing Report

Check out City Lab’s County Affordability Map; it showcases via mapping the rural and urban affordability problem.

This crisis means that people of all incomes levels and ages are have difficulty finding housing that fits their needs and price points.  Ferndale is impacted by this crisis (to what extent is being researched now by city staff).

The Development Projects

The Great Recession is over; the real estate market has returned. Developers want to build in Ferndale.

Check out my running list of proposed housing  and mixed use development projects, stage, location and number of units. 

Under construction now….the Ferndalehaus Lofts

In total, 687 new units (town homes, condos, lofts, apartments and single-family homes) have been proposed; 201 units are under construction now.

  • 82% of new units are multi-family (town homes, condos, lofts and apartments and senior living)
  • 18% of multi-family are senior living units
  • 17% are single-family homes

With this new growth, it is an opportunity for the city to work with developers to achieve win-win scenarios:  projects that have a return on investment for the developers AND community outcomes that positively impact the city, community and residents (current and future).


Why is New Housing Important for Ferndale?

In my opinion, the increase in the new housing units, especially the missing middle, is positive.  More people living here is good for our businesses, school district with more school-aged children, the downtown and neighborhoods. 

More people living and working downtown will help our retailers and businesses be more successful.

We need new housing choices so Ferndalians like our seniors can downsize but stay in the community they love.

Change is Uncomfortable

Ferndale is changing and in transition through this new growth.  Change bring unknowns and uncertainty. It feels uncomfortable and scary because life will change in some way, somehow for those living near, around and adjacent to the new projects.

Kinda feels like this, when you first hear about a project proposed in your neighborhood.

I hear you. I get it.

Residents have questions and concerns about the new and future developments meeting multiple price points (affordability), design (fitting in with community character) and density (how many units and how tall).

While residents are generally supportive of the new developments, which is a natural progression for a city (economic development and growth), I also hear our residents voice concerns that these opportunities bring a new set of challenges that need a strong local government to guide development forward.

I’ve heard the following fears and concerns:

  • Ferndale is being “over developed.”
  • Character of Ferndale is changing
  • We don’t need new housing
  • Where are all these new residents going to park?

Our city’s newly approved 2017 master plan has a vision for growth and what that growth should look like. We have in-fill development opportunities to bring back to productive useful life of vacant, underutilized or obsolete buildings/properties.

City council knows new development must fit the character of the community (Part II will discuss our design guidelines efforts). Yes, we do need new housing choices. It’s a national crisis.  Parking: It’s a balance with zoning, parking policy, parking management, enforcement and negotiations with the developers.

New Housing Addresses Current Challenges

These are a few reasons why new housing is important to Ferndale, as stated in the city’s recent adoption of the 2017 Master Plan.

Population Loss

New housing helps Ferndale address the 36% drop in population since its peak in the 1960’s. A drop from 32,000 to 20,000 residents.

Our city’s population decline is a combo of things: reflects the build-abandon cycle of Metro Detroit’s growth patterns–the push-pull from residents moving out further to, but also, manufacturing job reductions and number of children per household is down.  The reasons are not all inclusive (that is another blog post).

Supply versus Demand

Rents go up when there is high-demand and limited supply of housing, or no new housing. That’s what we have right now in Ferndale; more folks want to live in the community than the right type of available housing accommodates. Residents have voiced that it is becoming harder to find rental prices for those who earn $30,000 to $40,000 salary, or less. More multifamily housing can help stabilize rental prices, if priced appropriately.  (Part II will discuss inclusive housing policies that address income displacement which means lower-income residents can no longer afford to live in Ferndale).

Home ownership is down, Rentals are up

More people are renting now than before (again, a national trend). We have 60% home ownership and 40% rental of single-family homes, a 11% increase in rentals for single-family home in the last ten years.

Missing Middle Housing

The American Planning Association’s top blog post in 2016 was on Missing Middle Housing, which is defined as “a range of multi-unit or clustered housing types compatible in scale with single-family homes that help meet the growing demand for walkable urban living”.

In layman’s terms, it’s building higher density multi-family housing that is designed well to fit into the neighborhood. It’s the in-between of a single-family home and a really tall, hundreds of rental units building typically found in big cities.  

photo credit:

Metro Mode wrote about this issue in Metro Detroit:  Metro Mode:  Seeking  a “missing middle” in Metro Detroit’s housing market.  The challenge is getting developers to build the missing middle that fits the character and context of a community and the neighborhood.

Essentially, Ferndale is missing middle housing. Developers need to have more product that what they are presenting to communities for consideration (this is a regional problem, not just our small community).


Part II  will look at what city council and city staff are doing to review policies to address these challenges and opportunities.




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