Sleeping Bear Gateways Council seeks hosts for seasonal employee housing exchange


Jorene Williams, Dejie-ann Smith, and Joycelyn Mclean, college students from Jamaica, worked in 2017 at Anderson’s Market, which provided employee housing. Other employees or would-be employees of local businesses have struggled to find housing.

From staff reports

For college students and others seeking summer employment in Benzie and Leelanau counties, getting a job is often the easy part.

The hard part comes in finding a place to live.

“It’s a significant barrier to anyone who’s not local,” said Isabella Beshouri, a University of Michigan student who spent a month in 2021 finding a summer rental after being hired as an intern at Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore.

That barrier is being lowered in 2022 and beyond through an innovative “seasonal employee housing exchange” sponsored by the Sleeping Bear Gateways Council (SBGC) and funded through grants from local foundations and the federal government.

A variety of large and small businesses in Benzie and Leelanau counties will be participating in the cooperative project, linking employers with hosts who have rental space — potentially anything from a room in a home to a full house or cottage — available for seasonal workers.

By participating in the housing exchange, hosts can support familiar local businesses, while making new acquaintances and earning extra income to help offset the costs of ownership.

“Our studies show that gateway community businesses have been unable to staff up in recent summers, due to a lack of available housing for seasonal employees,” said SBGC vice-president Bill Witler. “Property owners who sign up as hosts can gain some rental income while helping to ensure that their favorite local businesses continue to offer the best possible services in coming summers.”

Full information is online at Potential hosts can register property in the confidential database at The registration process has been streamlined to take about 5 minutes.

The rental listings and contact information are accessible only to Sleeping Bear area businesses that have signed up for the housing exchange.

Participating businesses will share rental property listings with their employees as needed, and the employees can then contact hosts directly to negotiate rental terms.

The housing exchange builds on a model used by the National Lakeshore in 2020, when seasonal worker housing in park-owned properties was limited by Coronavirus restrictions. National Park Service administrators reached out to the local communities and were able to find the needed accommodations.

Beshouri, an environmental studies student from the Detroit area, was awarded a National Lakeshore internship for the summer of 2021, but told up-front that the offer was dependent on finding housing.  Her first inquiries were unproductive — “When you get into the intricacies of Traverse City apartments, it’s a long waiting process,” she said — but with help from the Lakeshore program she ultimately was able to rent a vacant cottage near Maple City.

She is now back in classes in Ann Arbor, but her year in northwest Michigan could be a bonus for all concerned.

“I really did fall in love with the Park service,” she said, “Potentially in the future that could be a career.”

Introducing young workers to the Benzie-Leelanau region is just one side-benefit of the seasonal employee housing exchange.

“If you are interested in helping seasonal workers and your communities to provide the highest service levels possible, and have a bedroom, apartment, cottage or other accommodation that may be available for a seasonal worker, we would like to hear from you,” Witler said. “Please contact our project manager, Elise Crafts, at (231) 313-7116 or email”

The Sleeping Bear Gateways Council formed in 2018 as a successor to the former Citizens Council of the Sleeping Bear Dunes Area.  The non-profit group’s stated mission is to “facilitate stakeholder collaboration to enhance sustainable gateway communities.” The long-term vision is that citizens, visitors, the economy and the environment will continue to benefit from the unique character of the gateway communities and the region’s natural resources.