Young professionals climb ‘The Hill’


The Voigt House is an example of the type of historical style and architecture that is drawing younger generations to Heritage Hill. Courtesy Experience Grand Rapids

New developments and old homes in the Heritage Hill district are making it a magnet for young professionals, according to local builders and neighborhood associates.

One of the more prominent developments to come to the neighborhood in the last year was the Heritage Place apartment complex at 50 College Ave. SE.

According to earlier Business Journal reports, the, $14-million development, owned by Orion Real Estate Solutions and built by Orion Construction, delivered 86 market-rate apartments to the neighborhood — 22 studio apartments, 48 one-bedroom units and 16 two-bedroom units.

PURE Real Estate Management opened pre-leasing on the complex in July 2018 before it was officially completed in October of the same year. According to ORES, Heritage Place has received a lot of positive reception. There currently are only nine vacant units available, and ORES anticipates it to be fully occupied by the end of this summer.

According to Orion, Heritage Place has drawn young professionals ranging from 23 to 41. There are a handful of new families who have had their first child, and almost every tenant has pets of some kind. Many residents also are engaged in the community through various bodies like the Heritage Hill Neighborhood Association.

Heritage Place also serves as an avenue for new residents to explore Heritage Hill, according to Orion. Based on the firm’s data, many tenants are renting apartments there while they browse around the neighborhood looking to buy a permanent home.

Because of the success surrounding Heritage Place, Orion is using it as a template for future housing developments that are yet to be announced.

Jan Earl, executive director of the Heritage Hill Neighborhood Association, praised Orion for its development of Heritage Place.

“We’re a pretty built-out community, so you aren’t going to see a lot of new builds,” Earl said.

While development is slow in Heritage Hill, there has been some activity, Earl said. About three new housing projects have been developed in the last seven years.

Earl added some homebuilders are getting creative with the limited amount of space there is. Recently, Bruce and Brenda Thompson, founders of Urbaneer, unveiled their new “tiny home” at 338 Pleasant St. SE in Heritage Hill.

Ted Lott, principal at Lott3Metz Architecture, said he had been working with Urbaneer to design the bungalow-style home that was built on a small lot that used to have a garage built on it. By city standards, the lot wasn’t suitable for a single-family home.

“Their concept is trying to find ways that people can live well in smaller spaces,” Lott said of Urbaneer. “We’re trying to build quality rather than quantity of space.”

The house only has an 800-square-foot footprint, but with the upstairs and basement, as well as the ability to reconfigure walls and furniture, it could amount to 1,600 square feet of livable space, Lott said.

The Thompson home is the first small-space concept Urbaneer has developed. The company also has two other models that it intends to bring to market: a 300-square-foot carriage house and a 576-square-foot cottage design with an optional basement. Aside from working to reduce the cost of buying a home, Urbaneer and its partners are looking at different metrics in determining the cost of living.

When the new floor plans were unveiled in March, Thompson told the Business Journal they were suitable for anybody age “22 to 102.” Regardless of people’s individual phases in life, the models Thompson is promoting are geared toward people who want to live a more compact, walkable lifestyle.

Earl said she and her staff also have noticed the location of Heritage Hill is a big benefit to young people, being adjacent to downtown nightlife and businesses where homeowners shop and work.

Heritage Hill recently hosted its 50th annual weekend tour of homes, which Earl said was well attended by younger homebuyers. Aside from the proximity to downtown, these prospective residents also were apparently attracted to the historic architecture of the homes.

“I was asking many of our volunteers staffing the event, and they said it was a really young crowd,” Earl said. “Old houses and their architecture are certainly having a renewed interest among younger folks … you don’t see this kind of craftsmanship being built in other modern buildings.”

The Heritage Hill Neighborhood Association publishes annual reports with figures for housing density, owner-to-renter rates, demographics and more. According to the most recent figures, there are 1,300 Heritage Hill structures occupied by 3,467 households. The total population is 4,103, averaging 1.2 people per household.

Of the total population, 81% are Caucasian, 9% are African American, 4% are Hispanic or Latino, 2% are Asian, the remaining 4% are mixed races; 70% of residents are tenants and 30% are owners; 64% of residents are moderate to low income, and 66% of structures are either owner occupied or neighbor owned and 34% are absentee-owned.

The density of housing is over twice the Grand Rapids average — 19% of households do not own cars. This trend is growing as residents seek out non-auto alternatives like walking, public transportation, bikes, etc.

Statistics are based on U.S. Census data.

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