Best Cities for Young Families in Michigan

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Best Cities for Young Families in Michigan

Michigan was among the states hit the hardest by the economic downturn. The state’s unemployment rate, the highest in the U.S. during the Great Recession, peaked at 14.2% in August 2009, a stunning blow to the home of the nation’s automakers, which were at the center of U.S. industry for the first half of the 20th century.

In 1950, Detroit’s population peaked at 1.8 million, and since then, it has slowly fallen to 688,000. The culmination of this decline was the $79 billion in loans and capital to help save the auto industry as part of TARP, which former President George W. Bush signed into law in October 2008.

Motor City reboots

Now, Detroit’s leaders and residents are making a serious effort to revitalize Motor City, with an investment of over $1 billion in downtown by Billionaire Dan Gilbert, who aims to help turn the city into a magnet for startups and tech talent.

The passion and optimism running through Detroit are also again spreading through the rest of the state as jobs, capital and confidence return. By November 2014, Michigan had closed the unemployment gap, and the jobless rate of 6.7% was less than 1% above the national rate.

NerdWallet found the communities in Michigan that offer young families the best combination of solid schools, great neighbors and affordable housing. Here’s our second analysis of 173 cities, towns and census-designated places in Michigan.

Key takeaways

Small towns dominate. The average population of the top 10 is 9,086, but many of these small towns are closely linked, both geographically and economically, with Michigan’s larger cities.

Expensive and affordable. The average median home value in the top 10 cities is $152,520, which is higher than the statewide median home value of $103,500. However, homes in Michigan are below the national median of $176,700, which means that even the more expensive cities are affordable.

Wide geographic footprint. From St. Joseph in the west, to Lambertville in the east and up to Iron Mountain and Ishpeming in the Upper Peninsula, the top 10 cities are spread across the state.

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NerdWallet’s analysis

Home affordability. We looked at median home value and selected monthly homeowner costs to prioritize affordable communities.

Prosperity and growth. Looking at current and past family incomes, we calculated the income of residents, as well as the projected long-term growth of each city.

Quality of education. We looked at ratings at the popular site GreatSchools.org to find the best schools.

Family friendliness. This year, we added a new component to our methodology — the percentage of families with school-age children and the poverty rate for young children. This measure helps determine if an area is not only affordable for families, but also a healthy one for children. 

NerdWallet crunched the data for 173 places in Michigan — cities, towns and census-designated places. Only places with over 5,000 residents were analyzed. To see the full data set, click here.

Best cities for young families in Michigan

1. Freeland

This community may be one of the smallest places in the top 10, but it makes a big impact as one of the most family-centric places in the state. Freeland has the largest proportion, 37%, of married family households with children in the state. A series of annual events fill the calendars for young families, including the Walleye Festival, which features a fishing tournament, 5K and 10K races and the popular Walleye Parade, and Arts in the Park that highlights the work of local artists in a setting with wine and cheese tasting.

2. Lambertville

Even though this community is tucked into the extreme southeast corner of Michigan, it isn’t forgotten among young families:  the proportion of households with children is among the highest in the state. Lambertville is also close to some of the best amenities in Toledo, Ann Arbor and Detroit. Whether you crave afternoon hiking through Indian Creek Park or watching the Toledo Mud Hens, Lambertville offers many of the conveniences of a small town, but with access to larger cities.

3. Byron Center

The community, tucked in the middle of Michigan’s western population centers — Grand Rapids and Kalamazoo — strives to maintain its own unique culture and tradition. And this year will bring the 79th edition of the annual Byron Days Festival. Nearby Kent Trails, a converted rail right of way with 15 miles of paths for biking, jogging and skating, is perfect for burning off that sundae from Houseman’s Ice Cream in downtown Byron Center.

4. Huntington Woods

This suburban Detroit city may have the highest median income in the state and expensive housing, but the cost of living pays dividends for young families. Huntington Woods has an excellent elementary school, which received a GreatSchools rating of 9 out of 10, and 80% of residents 25 and older have at least a bachelor’s degree — more than triple the statewide rate. Residents have made a long-term investment in Huntington Woods with a homeownership rate of 94.5%, which is 20% higher than the statewide figure.

5. New Baltimore

This city may have a downtown set on Anchor Bay and a recent record of strong economic growth, but the most striking quality is its level of community involvement. Bay-Rama, a local volunteer organization, not only puts on the Fishfly Festival, New Baltimore’s largest annual event, but it also raises money for a number of investments in the community, from renovating parks to a scholarship fund for local graduates.

6. St. Joseph

The self-proclaimed “Riviera of the Midwest” makes the most of its stunning location on Lake Michigan that draws visitors from across the region. St. Joseph’s downtown features art galleries, bed and breakfast accommodations and cafes, and it is only a short walk from Silver Beach, one of the top beaches in the country. It is the only city in the top 10 with a perfect 10 score from GreatSchools, and as an added bonus: median family incomes have more than doubled since 1999.

7. Iron Mountain

Yoopers, rejoice. Iron Mountain has the distinction of being one of two places in the top 10 in the Upper Peninsula — after the U.P. was shut out of NerdWallet’s previous rankings. Downtown Iron Mountain hosts a series of events throughout the year — including Italian Fest and the Downtown Christmas Walk. Even with a closely-knit community and some of the best scenery in the country, Iron Mountain is still one of the most affordable places in the state, with the median home value 35% below the statewide figure.

8. South Lyon

This city has quality schools, which earned it a GreatSchools score of 8, and median family incomes since 1999 have grown 60%, higher than the top 10 average of 53%. Active families will find plenty to love on the Huron Valley Trail, a paved 25-mile former rail right of way that features events throughout the year. The annual pumpkin festival and a summer concert series in the town’s elegant Victorian gazebo are among the most popular draws.

9. Berkley

Even though Berkley is only 17 miles from Detroit, the city defines its own culture and character. The downtown area welcomes walkers and it is full of local small businesses. From morning doughnuts at the Doughnut Cutter to evening cocktails at Amici’s, the neighborhood is a busy one. Residents can expect to allocate about 20% of median monthly income on select homeownership costs — the lowest rate in the top 10.

10. Ishpeming

The second of the U.P. towns on our list, Ishpeming was originally built as a mining town, but it’s now famous for skiing. The ski club that became the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association began in Ishpeming, and the city is home to the U.S. National Ski and Snowboard Hall of Fame. This year marks Ishpeming’s 128th annual Ski Jumping Tournament.

Check out this interactive map of NerdWallet’s top 10 cities for young families in Michigan. Click on an icon to see each place’s overall score.

Best cities for young families in Michigan

Location GreatSchools rank Median home value 1999-2013 family income growth 2013 median family income Percent of families with at least 1 child under age 18 Young families score
1 Freeland 8 $158,400 53.69% $85,230 36.60% 73.04
2 Lambertville 8 $166,800 20.74% $75,125 31.70% 67.51
3 Byron Center 9 $185,200 26.29% $73,889 28.70% 66.61
4 Huntington Woods 9 $250,500 53.29% $133,490 34.10% 66.58
5 New Baltimore 7 $168,700 52.32% $92,455 32.90% 66.40
6 St. Joseph 10 $152,500 101.40% $74,583 13.60% 65.81
7 Iron Mountain 7 $76,000 57.70% $51,295 18.80% 64.97
8 South Lyon 8 $151,400 60.11% $85,492 25.60% 64.54
9 Berkley 8 $142,200 50.11% $86,494 21.70% 64.34
10 Ishpeming 7 $73,500 59.85% $50,107 18.10% 63.28
11 Saline 9 $187,200 69.26% $100,511 21.00% 62.96
12 Houghton 9 $127,900 162.04% $55,515 14.10% 62.94
13 Hudsonville 8 $128,500 36.49% $64,096 26.40% 62.86
14 Grandville 8 $135,000 35.39% $64,403 21.40% 62.63
15 Grosse Pointe 9 $242,700 63.55% $132,656 26.00% 62.50
16 Rockford 8 $145,200 51.40% $76,550 25.30% 61.85
17 Coldwater 6 $80,300 32.32% $44,874 22.40% 61.52
18 Grosse Pointe Farms 9 $247,300 24.43% $124,618 28.30% 61.50
19 Norton Shores 8 $114,500 43.14% $65,067 18.40% 61.49
20 Grosse Pointe Woods 8 $186,300 33.75% $105,071 25.40% 61.48
21 Troy 8 $219,200 28.65% $99,750 29.40% 61.47
22 Temperance 7 $154,300 26.24% $77,118 25.80% 61.25
23 Allen Park 6 $101,500 38.29% $71,899 21.10% 61.22
24 Clawson 8 $126,500 42.45% $72,546 17.60% 60.98
25 East Lansing 8 $177,000 209.55% $87,347 11.80% 60.95
26 Farmington 8 $155,100 41.84% $80,057 21.10% 60.88
27 Midland 8 $139,500 46.43% $70,936 19.60% 60.72
28 Dearborn 6 $103,300 26.04% $56,164 28.50% 60.62
29 Marysville 6 $120,700 42.50% $70,253 21.00% 60.03
30 Mason 7 $113,900 59.13% $66,500 18.30% 60.01
31 Grand Ledge 7 $119,300 36.75% $64,331 19.90% 59.99
32 Dowagiac 6 $74,000 43.23% $42,864 18.90% 59.59
33 Beverly Hills 8 $269,400 39.48% $126,010 29.90% 59.54
34 Rochester 8 $266,800 93.45% $126,091 24.00% 59.48
35 Rochester Hills 8 $212,700 31.68% $98,641 25.80% 59.38
36 Novi 8 $235,800 51.10% $108,666 27.10% 59.18
37 Tecumseh 7 $114,200 39.36% $64,253 19.20% 59.17
38 Walled Lake 8 $101,100 29.45% $58,750 16.20% 59.10
39 Grand Blanc 8 $136,500 46.05% $79,013 18.00% 59.07
40 Holland 7 $117,200 16.39% $49,221 23.00% 58.94
41 Fraser 6 $113,900 46.21% $73,601 19.10% 58.84
42 St. Clair Shores 6 $94,600 40.06% $68,694 16.60% 58.75
43 Flat Rock 6 $99,400 32.42% $58,377 23.70% 58.66
44 Hastings 6 $96,100 27.91% $49,928 21.70% 58.40
45 Portage 7 $148,100 45.78% $72,030 21.70% 58.21
46 Holly 6 $84,400 34.74% $62,570 21.80% 58.01
47 Sturgis 5 $88,800 31.18% $44,387 24.30% 57.98
48 Livonia 6 $154,900 31.27% $82,723 21.50% 57.90
49 Plymouth 8 $195,700 89.19% $97,500 15.60% 57.75
50 Brighton 9 $163,500 56.64% $75,027 15.00% 57.69
51 Wixom 8 $179,500 70.68% $75,645 24.50% 57.63
52 Hillsdale 7 $81,200 27.13% $44,107 17.30% 57.55
53 Hamtramck 4 $46,600 10.02% $29,284 28.10% 57.54
54 Wyoming 5 $103,500 27.07% $54,848 22.00% 57.51
55 Auburn Hills 7 $113,600 20.80% $62,063 18.40% 57.48
56 Royal Oak 7 $155,700 65.27% $86,357 14.10% 57.26
57 Milan 6 $124,200 42.14% $68,952 20.70% 57.23
58 Southgate 6 $88,200 39.18% $65,311 15.20% 57.17
59 Cadillac 6 $80,200 47.87% $44,213 16.80% 57.12
60 Wyandotte 5 $87,600 45.61% $63,692 17.30% 56.62
61 Kingsford 8 $70,900 60.03% $53,073 10.50% 56.58
62 Alpena 6 $77,500 40.46% $42,635 14.70% 56.44
63 Davison 7 $94,500 37.73% $51,625 15.60% 56.39
64 Escanaba 7 $82,500 56.98% $45,721 13.00% 56.24
65 Howell 7 $119,800 31.53% $57,817 18.30% 56.18
66 Grand Haven 8 $117,700 30.55% $52,639 12.40% 56.16
67 Marshall 8 $110,800 36.56% $56,225 13.40% 56.08
68 Manistee 5 $91,500 54.24% $46,813 15.20% 56.04
69 Zeeland 7 $125,300 11.39% $50,804 14.50% 55.93
70 Trenton 7 $118,300 44.37% $71,556 16.80% 55.72
71 Allegan 5 $83,900 20.61% $47,688 14.10% 55.61
72 Battle Creek 6 $84,400 37.26% $48,716 16.10% 55.59
73 Northville 8 $238,300 33.15% $111,797 21.80% 55.53
74 Richmond 5 $113,900 48.95% $64,612 20.00% 55.47
75 Marquette 6 $159,600 112.30% $63,516 12.30% 55.43
76 Bay City 6 $69,200 50.67% $45,841 15.40% 55.24
77 Ionia 7 $82,600 -3.87% $36,808 17.50% 55.18
78 Sterling Heights 6 $144,200 12.47% $68,035 22.80% 55.11
79 Three Rivers 6 $76,800 38.63% $45,000 15.00% 54.81
80 Fenton 6 $105,800 11.96% $53,071 18.80% 54.78
81 Farmington Hills 7 $201,200 34.45% $90,742 20.50% 54.58
82 Swartz Creek 7 $106,300 27.82% $53,828 17.30% 54.56
83 Burton 4 $74,600 23.12% $54,234 18.80% 54.41
84 Eaton Rapids 6 $96,400 21.48% $48,313 19.30% 54.36
85 Roseville 5 $66,100 15.47% $47,597 15.40% 54.34
86 Grosse Pointe Park 7 $253,700 43.23% $115,282 27.30% 54.33
87 Garden City 3 $83,100 23.93% $64,249 19.90% 54.32
88 Niles 6 $78,700 31.03% $40,893 13.40% 54.04
89 Okemos 6 $193,300 63.91% $102,954 21.20% 53.75
90 Ann Arbor 8 $230,700 98.77% $92,030 14.40% 53.70
91 Grand Rapids 6 $109,400 27.52% $47,468 15.10% 53.45
92 Riverview 7 $117,200 25.44% $59,740 15.80% 53.41
93 Traverse City 7 $168,900 59.84% $59,667 15.00% 53.32
94 Flushing 7 $112,200 31.64% $71,100 15.80% 53.32
95 Hazel Park 5 $54,700 9.10% $40,417 14.80% 53.15
96 Big Rapids 6 $87,700 111.48% $42,703 13.00% 53.13
97 St. Johns 5 $119,200 11.73% $46,607 17.90% 53.03
98 Ironwood 7 $52,300 75.52% $41,250 10.00% 52.80
99 Oak Park 5 $82,200 14.33% $55,677 17.00% 52.77
100 Charlotte 6 $111,000 25.34% $46,968 17.90% 52.73
101 Owosso 5 $81,700 22.53% $39,915 16.10% 52.72
102 Lincoln Park 4 $62,500 14.62% $48,732 17.00% 52.71
103 Dearborn Heights 4 $85,600 6.79% $51,498 21.60% 52.49
104 Belding 4 $82,200 45.31% $47,775 14.90% 52.41
105 Romulus 5 $73,100 14.63% $51,683 16.20% 52.00
106 Warren 4 $89,500 20.43% $53,742 17.70% 51.88
107 Menominee 5 $76,500 49.96% $45,771 10.30% 51.85
108 Madison Heights 5 $84,200 12.22% $47,500 17.00% 51.84
109 Mount Pleasant 6 $123,400 102.82% $49,838 10.20% 51.57
110 Melvindale 4 $59,000 5.13% $39,902 13.60% 51.56
111 Birmingham 8 $347,400 58.80% $128,411 25.20% 51.46
112 Adrian 7 $74,200 13.50% $38,819 11.40% 50.90
113 Whitmore Lake 5 $116,300 22.38% $63,033 11.60% 50.86
114 Holt 2 $148,700 65.05% $73,252 24.40% 50.85
115 Greenville 5 $91,100 19.09% $36,268 16.50% 50.82
116 Ferndale 5 $93,700 23.64% $56,417 10.80% 50.68
117 Mount Clemens 5 $76,800 29.70% $49,101 10.80% 50.61
118 Westland 4 $90,600 18.79% $55,007 14.70% 50.51
119 Taylor 5 $77,800 10.63% $47,510 14.30% 50.46
120 Lansing 5 $85,000 23.18% $42,907 13.10% 50.46
121 Monroe 5 $107,900 23.94% $51,818 16.20% 49.98
122 Alma 5 $76,500 21.48% $40,740 12.40% 49.66
123 Jackson 5 $66,900 4.83% $32,807 14.00% 49.57
124 Springfield 4 $65,400 25.28% $37,321 10.90% 49.20
125 Petoskey 7 $190,100 70.67% $57,442 12.90% 48.79
126 Wayne 3 $74,000 7.35% $49,805 15.80% 48.67
127 Comstock Park 5 $122,600 16.27% $46,742 15.90% 48.67
128 Kalamazoo 5 $97,600 38.20% $43,102 11.40% 48.63
129 Harper Woods 3 $68,100 8.69% $50,831 15.80% 48.55
130 Saginaw 5 $49,200 23.92% $32,821 9.40% 48.08
131 Ludington 5 $104,100 60.56% $45,099 12.00% 48.08
132 Eastpointe 3 $62,500 5.31% $48,716 15.50% 47.80
133 Muskegon 5 $67,500 15.88% $32,365 10.20% 46.83
134 Lapeer 6 $86,900 3.86% $36,898 14.40% 46.27
135 Port Huron 4 $81,400 22.16% $38,268 13.30% 45.99
136 Center Line 3 $65,700 59.85% $50,636 12.10% 45.06
137 Southfield 4 $108,500 19.67% $61,992 11.70% 43.98
138 Flint 4 $41,700 4.13% $29,173 7.50% 43.91
139 Ecorse 3 $50,200 27.72% $34,667 9.50% 43.75
140 Ypsilanti 5 $123,100 62.11% $46,380 8.30% 43.06
141 Highland Park 4 $42,200 44.07% $25,554 3.90% 42.16
142 River Rouge 3 $38,600 -5.28% $27,671 7.90% 41.61
143 Albion 3 $63,700 16.81% $35,330 9.50% 41.57
144 Detroit 3 $50,400 7.74% $31,811 8.00% 41.07
145 Pontiac 2 $61,000 5.77% $33,007 11.10% 40.22
146 Benton Harbor 2 $49,800 18.09% $20,632 4.40% 38.74
147 Inkster 2 $55,400 -13.19% $31,208 7.80% 37.86

The final analysis excluded 26 places because they lacked complete school data.

Methodology

All data are from the 2013 U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey. Our methodology focused on four factors:

  1. Home affordability. Home affordability, 30% of the total score, was calculated by averaging index scores for median home value and median selected monthly owner costs. The lower the costs, the higher the score.
  2. Growth and prosperity. Growth and prosperity are 20% of the total score. The two metrics involved were growth in family income from 1999 to 2013, and median family income in 2013. Both were weighted equally and positively.
  3. Family friendliness. To measure if an area is a good place for families, which is 30% of our total score, we looked at the percentage of married couples with at least one child under age 18, and the percentage of families in poverty with at least one child under age 5. The percentage of families with at least one child was 70% of the score, while the percentage of families in poverty was 30% of the score.
  4. Educational quality. Using data from GreatSchools, every place was assigned a ranking from 1 to 10 for the quality of schools. Education is 20% of the total score.

A family walks toward Lake Michigan in this image via iStock.