Frey Foundation enters affordable housing fray


The Frey Foundation is wading into the affordable housing crunch by promising a grant for creative solutions to Kent County’s lack of affordable inventory.

The philanthropic organization recently sent out a call for innovative ideas from partners in the construction, banking, public and nonprofit sectors to accelerate access to sustainable, quality housing in Kent County.

The foundation is specifically focused on addressing housing access for people who are employed yet may be struggling to make ends meet or those categorized as Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed (ALICE) by the Heart of West Michigan United Way.

Holly Johnson, president of the Frey Foundation, said the decision to step into the affordable housing conversation had been a long time coming for the organization. The current generation of Frey family trustees has been researching and scrutinizing how the foundation can link arms with existing efforts in both the private and public sectors.

“I think when we look at all of the great things going on in Grand Rapids, and all of the amazing investment downtown and in Kent County, it’s up to us to make sure our ALICE population is able to be a more active participant in the community at all levels,” she said.

According to the Heart of West Michigan United Way, at least 25 percent of Kent County’s households are considered among the ALICE population. For families in these circumstances, adults in the household are employed and earning above the federal poverty level; however, they do not earn enough to cover the basic cost of living, considered to be $56,460 per year for a family of four in Kent County.

Lynne Ferrell, Frey Foundation program director, said many factors contribute to housing insecurity among ALICE households.

“Low supply and high housing costs are just the start,” Ferrell said. “Beyond basic supply and demand, stagnant wages, illness or unanticipated household expenses can hinder a family’s ability to afford rent or a mortgage payment. This can snowball into an eviction or damaged credit and present an entirely new set of challenges.”

The foundation will award a grant of up to $150,000 to an agency or partnership that submits an innovative, actionable plan, concept or collaboration that effectively reduces the number of ALICE families paying more than 30 percent of monthly income for housing. Submissions will be evaluated by an external advisory committee coordinated by the Grand Valley Metro Council, with one idea being selected.

To be eligible, ideas should address at least one of the following:


  • Damaged, limited or no access to credit or financing
  • Patient capital for sustainable development
  • Gentrification or forced displacement

Creative Development

  • Scarce housing supply near centers of employment, transportation and child care
  • Barriers to reuse of vacant properties
  • Prohibitive costs of new construction


  • Persistent community impact of foreclosures
  • Policy barriers that hinder or discourage sustainable housing choices by ALICE households
  • Drivers of high costs that lead to limited affordability

Johnson said the foundation’s call to action could potentially complement the city of Grand Rapids’ Housing NOW! plan. The Business Journal previously covered the proposed policy recommendations under the plan, which includes incentives for small-scale development, establishing an affordable housing fund and providing homeownership incentives.

The call for housing innovation is an addition to the Frey Foundation’s regular grant-making. While the foundation serves northern and West Michigan, this particular opportunity is focused on Kent County.

Johnson added the foundation also views this innovation request as a learning opportunity for how it can better serve the communities where it operates.

“The Frey Foundation hasn’t put something like this out before,” she said. “It’s our opportunity to learn about who’s working in this space and how can we be a better philanthropic partner.”

Ideas currently are being accepted online. The deadline for submission is Oct. 29, and the foundation expects to have an announcement for the winning agency or partnership by December.

The application system is available at

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