The nonprofit Inner City Christian Federation closed on a purchase earlier this month of 28 houses and duplexes in the Grand Rapids area.
The $2.6-million purchase, which includes 32 units of housing, was funded by grants and loans from Amplify GR, the Barnabas Foundation, the CDV5 Foundation and the Doug and Maria DeVos Foundation.
The purchase is in addition to the $14.5-million purchase of 177 properties, containing 213 units, in November 2017 from the same unnamed Chicago-based investment group.
The transaction transferred property ownership and management to ICCF, based at 920 Cherry St. SE in Grand Rapids.
The properties were purchased in an effort to preserve affordable rental rates and provide new homeownership opportunities for low- and moderate-income households in the Grand Rapids area, according to Ryan VerWys, the nonprofit’s CEO.
If these properties were sold on the private market, he said it’s almost certain prices would increase.
VerWys said the organization is concerned about displacement of longtime residents as rent and home prices increase due to housing’s high demand and limited supply.
“Largely, it’s those with low incomes who are pretty vulnerable in a market like this,” he said.
VerWys said ICCF has seen an uptick in the number of families in which someone has a “good job,” such as at a hospital or manufacturing company, becoming homeless because of increased rent.
In an area with a booming economy, he said ICCF is committed to ensuring “everyone can enjoy that vibrancy, not just those of us who have high incomes.”
Around 40 of the homes are in the 49507 ZIP code.
VerWys said the people in that area expressed wanting the opportunity for more homeownership opportunities, and he sees the organizations’ funding of the ICCF purchase as a response to that.
“They listened to the voice of the neighborhood,” he said.
All the properties were occupied at the time of purchase, and VerWys said the goal is to sell half of them in the next 10 years to those interesting in buying.
ICCF holds homeownership and finance classes for those interested.
In the meantime, VerWys said the goal is to raise $900,000 for improvements on the newly acquired buildings, paying special attention to increasing the energy efficiency and environmental stability of the homes.
He said the nonprofit will focus on hiring local contractors committed to employing low-income residents of the neighborhoods containing the homes.
ICCF has hit its $1.8-million fundraising goal for improvements on the first homes and now is working on the houses, having touched all but four units so far.
VerWys said hundreds of individual projects have been completed, such as installing energy-efficient windows and heaters.
He said the project has received a lot of support from the community, including 10 churches that have each sponsored a house in some way, providing a total of nearly 100 volunteers — sometimes including plumbers, electricians and carpenters — to help with improvements.
The congregation from Sherman Street Christian Church, at 1000 Sherman St. SE in Grand Rapids, has donated $18,000 and helped complete handrails, painting and prep work, according to Matt Fowler, the church’s community connection staff member.
He said the congregation had been discussing ways to help with the housing crisis. Rather than pursuing an early idea of buying a house and offsetting rent, they decided to work on ICCF’s established project, which also allows the church to take a tax write-off on money donated.
Fowler said he has been acting as a general contractor, scheduling volunteers and companies to complete work. He said one volunteer tiled the home’s entire shower.
“It’s been exciting to get the church involved and put their heart in the house,” Fowler said. “To be able to build a house that’s beautiful and affordable and knowing that it’s going to held by a reputable nonprofit that we believe in.”
With ICCF as the landlord of these properties, VerWys said the organization’s goal is to work with tenants, rather than calling them “neighbors,” strengthening their relationships with the nonprofit and helping them build stronger all-around foundations.
“The closer the landlord is to the tenant, the better it is for the tenants,” he said.