April Fools Day: Leelanau to solve housing/workforce crisis by housing workers at Sugar Loaf encampment


From staff reports

Leelanau County businesses have found an innovative solution to the region’s vexing affordable housing and workforce recruitment crisis.

County government, chambers of commerce, and local businesses will team up to build a vast tent encampment at the vacant and abandoned Sugar Loaf property, which was once a cherished ski resort and Leelanau’s biggest year-round employer before gangsters, con-men and real estate tycoons closed it for good nearly 25 years ago.

The encampment, which will accommodate 500 workers and include running water, portable restrooms, a pop-up cafeteria and pickle ball courts, will begin accepting applications on April 15 and will open on May 15, in time for this season’s summer tourism rush. Sugar Loaf’s new residents will only need to prove that they work at a County business — many of which are starved for their services. Those who don’t have vehicles can hop a ride on the BATA bus, which will run four times each day, between Memorial Day and Labor Day, to business districts throughout the peninsula.

The innovative solution came from Rikardo Liko, former Traverse City chancellor and Leelanau’s current interim county administrator.

“We had the same housing and workforce crisis in the metropolis of Traverse City,” said Liko. “But the tent encampment in the pines in the Grand Traverse Commons solved all that. We found that hardworking people who can’t afford to pay $3,000 per month for rent in northern Michigan, and can’t afford a $1 million home on the water, could instead live in tents in the woods and keep our tourism and service economics afloat.

“Locals have been unanimously supportive of campers in the pines—and they’ve voiced that support in coffee shops, churches, neighborhood association groups, and on the well-trafficked Overheard in Traverse City Facebook group. It’s well understood by our population that those living in the pines are hard working Americans who aren’t looking for a handout. That support is why we decided to try this workforce housing model in Leelanau County, too.”

The vast tent encampment in the heart of Leelanau County is expected to soften home prices a little, which is good news for working class families, especially those with young children in local schools, who want to settle here.

Gotcha! Happy April Fools Day! Unfortunately, the powers that be have concocted no such solution to the region’s workforce and affordable housing crisis.