Street Talk: The great housing strategy

While Grand Rapids receives recognition as a great place to live, work and play, the demand for housing and affordable solutions has become an important topic of conversation.

“It is a big hairy problem, but it is one we need to work on,” said Second Ward Commissioner Ruth Kelly, who helped launch an in-depth look at living situations in the city along with Third Ward commissioners Senita Lenear and Elias Lumpkins Jr.

“The work is not complete. I think this gives us a great distillation of data that we all need to wrap our minds around where we are now.”

The Great Housing Strategies was developed with input from workgroup members representing diverse backgrounds: developers, neighborhoods, community advocacy groups, foundations, nonprofit organizations, human services agencies, colleges, lending institutions and government agencies.

The issue they were motivated to tackle was how to create a variety of types and price points for future housing development and redevelopment, not only supporting diversity of race, ethnicity and incomes, but conveniently located near public transportation.

The 2013 American Community Survey estimated about 45 percent of Grand Rapids households earn less than $35,000 per year, and nearly 27 percent of all residents and 55 percent of single mothers with children under the age of 18 are living in poverty.

“Three statistics jump out at me in this report. One is that 39 percent of our children in the city are in poverty. Another is that by 2035 our senior population in the city will double, so we have to prepare for that,” said Kelly. “Finally, student debt average in Michigan is $28,000. This is a broad spectrum of people when you talk about affordability.”

Monica Steimle, of 616 Development and co-chair of the housing and finance workgroup, said the process was an answer to a lot of conversations about housing in the city.

“I think they got us all talking about where we should focus our attention … identifying what some of the terms really meant, like affordability. We are having these great dialogues, but there is a lot of work to be done.”

Foodie alert

Foodies might want to bring their forks to Romence Gardens & Greenhouses this Thursday for Local First’s fifth annual Fork Fest.

A foodie favorite, Fork Fest brings together more than 40 of West Michigan's food and beverage producers, growers and restaurateurs.

The best part: $30 ($35 at the door) lets you taste all the samples you want — and the portions are generous.

Brewery Vivant beer, Fenn Valley wine, Long Road Distillery cocktails and Vander Mill cider will be available for purchase, as well.

Folk band The Fauxgrass Quartet will perform throughout the evening.

“This is my favorite event of the year,” said Elissa Hillary, executive director of Local First. “Fork Fest is a time for restaurants, farmers and community members to come together to celebrate the agricultural abundance of our region.”

More than 500 people attended last year’s event, and organizers are expecting an even larger turnout this year. Fork Fest runs from 5-9 p.m.

Different Colors

Looking for a unique way to experience autumn? Two West Michigan businesses offer color tours that can’t be beat.

GR Paddling lets you hop in a kayak or canoe for two hours and experience the fall foliage as you paddle your way down a river.

“The colors are spectacular right now,” said Jeff Neumann, owner of GR Paddling.

Paddlers can choose from five rivers or five lakes for their excursion.

The best part is you don’t even have to get your feet wet. GR Paddling takes care of getting you in and out of the water and will even pick you up and drop you off at your front door.

Neumann encourages people to brave the cooler temperatures, get outdoors and experience fall.

Then there’s Sky High Hot Air Balloons of Middleville, which let’s you experience the autumn colors from above the trees.

Doug Mills, co-owner, said there is nothing like experiencing fall colors while drifting across the sky.

Mills and his wife, Karen Mills, have been in business since 1972. They operate one of the few hot air balloon companies left in the West Michigan area.

GR Paddling’s fall season runs through Oct. 31, while Sky High Hot Air Balloons typically runs into the beginning of November, depending on the weather.

Job opening

Heart of West Michigan United Way needs a new president and CEO.

Maureen Noe, who has been with the organization since 2011, has resigned. She will be taking over as president and CEO of the Indiana Association of United Ways.

“During her time at Heart of West Michigan United Way, Maureen initiated many community collaborations and efforts in education, income and health to help thousands of residents in our community,” said Richard Pappas, board chair.

United Way is currently assembling a search committee led by Stacie Behler, immediate past board chair.

Noe will stay on until Dec. 4 to assist with the transition. The board has named Bert Bleke, former superintendent of Grand Rapids Public Schools and current board chair at Grand Rapids Community College, as interim director. He will start that role Oct. 27.

“I am extremely proud of all the accomplishments we’ve achieved during my tenure, and while there is more to do for this community, I am looking forward to a whole new set of challenges and opportunities,” Noe said.

’80s night

The American Cancer Society will host “The Decades,” a 1980s-themed gala, Oct. 22 at the JW Marriott, with proceeds going to support research and services and building awareness in the fight against cancer.

Chaired by the president of Paul Goebel Group, Meg Goebel, the inaugural event will feature live music from cover band Mega 80’s, decade-appropriate activities and a high-end live auction. Guests will have the opportunity to donate to the American Cancer Society’s Hope Lodge, as well.

Goebel, who lost her father to cancer 20 years ago, was approached by the ACS to create a new event to take the place of the annual Cattle Baron’s Ball, which was not held in 2014. Working with a committee, Goebel helped come up with an annual theme of Decades.

“We just thought it was a good opportunity to change it up each year while still keeping a consistent theme of decades,” she said.

More than 250 people are expected to attend the gala, which is presented by Meijer and Dematic along with 18 other sponsors. The live auction will include a signed Picasso painting and University of Michigan football tickets, both donated by Goebel, as well as dinner and cruise packages.

Goebel said one of the challenges in putting on this year’s event was in introducing a new concept and asking sponsors to get on board with it while reminding West Michigan that the ACS still is a big part of the community. In setting up a new concept, Goebel hopes a stable groundwork will be laid for future events.

“Our goals are not lofty since this is a brand-new concept, but we want everyone to have fun — and they will — and get the buzz going for next year,” she said.

Tickets are $150 and include food and beverages. They can be purchased at or by calling (269) 349-8710.

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