Two very different meetings were held a day apart last week to give community discussion to the increasingly obvious affordable housing issue in Grand Rapids. The Business Journal underscored the lack of home building and the increasing number of out-of-state investors who now own more than 100 homes in the city, as reported over the past two months. Grand Valley State University Seidman College of Business director of supply management research Brian Long also cited in his recent GRBJ column as much as 30 percent population increases in Holland and Grand Rapids and the fact new housing supply simply could not keep pace with the rate of unanticipated growth.
During the Tuesday Grand Rapids City Commission committee of the whole meeting, its Housing Advisory Committee unveiled recommendations totaling 11 ordinance and policy changes. On Monday, leaders from community organizations hosted Speak up Grand Rapids: Gentrification and Our City, which offered insightful understanding of the issue — cause and effect — with (at least) one solid recommendation: Darel Ross II, co-executive director of LINC UP and co-director of Start Garden, is quoted in the Business Journal story, “An affordable housing policy in Grand Rapids has to have definitions,” he said. “The biggest thing that the leadership in Grand Rapids can do is start defining things: What is a healthy community? Is that 30 percent renters? Is that 30 percent affordable housing? You can’t get to a goal you can’t define. The city of Grand Rapids doesn’t even have a formula for that. Then you have to choose neighborhoods. You can’t retrofit affordability.”
The Business Journal urges caution regarding Ross’ suggestion to prevent the creation of arbitrary formulas and would urge annual review of any such guidance to assure presumptions do not permanently become city doctrine. Still, Ross’ suggestion of such guidance offers an important foundation to consider in continued city discussions. The Business Journal emphasizes Mayor Rosalynn Bliss intends to command $1.2 million of the city’s Affordable Housing Community Fund, supplemented by revenues from development project incentives, to address the issue. City commissioners also expect more than $1 million per year from federal funding, including Community Development Block Grants — in addition to the creation of an Affordable Housing and Preservation Fund. Wise stewardship of millions of dollars should be accompanied by goals and measures of effectiveness.
The Business Journal also reported Ross urged identifying opportunities in each community and formulating policies specifically designed for each community. The Business Journal believes, that, too, is a worthy consideration.