Affordable housing is a major issue across the country; it is no surprise that initiatives to address associated problems have been a part of community conversations from coast to coast, with an interesting range of policies and politics to alleviate the growing number of people affected.
The Business Journal is reporting on the effort in Ottawa County, which provides distinct contrast to the manner in which the issue is being addressed in Grand Rapids. The fact that one is countywide and the other specific to the borders of city limits is noteworthy, but the purpose of observation here is the contrast of leadership and use of taxpayer funds.
Ottawa County formed Housing Next, composed of nonprofit organizations, including two foundations that provide co-chair leadership; a nonprofit alliance; two chambers of commerce, United Way and Lakeshore Advantage economic development agency. The county administrator also serves as a council member. The Business Journal reports the cross-sector council includes members from local businesses, nonprofits and government organizations. Grand Haven Area Community Foundation President Holly Johnson and Community Foundation of Holland/Zeeland Area President Mike Goorhouse are uniting the three groups to leverage their various skills.
Goorhouse told the Business Journal the shortage can be attributed to wages that are not high enough (hence chamber involvement), as well as by high housing expenses. Most importantly, Goorhouse notes in the Business Journal story, “(Private developers) can get 70 to 80 percent of the way there purely on their capitalist economics and that’s different than most of the socioeconomic problems we try to solve. What we needed to do is help finish off the financial gap so there would be incentives for developers to build these units.”
The city of Grand Rapids approved its largest spending plan in history in June, and that budget included $1.2 million in what amounts to seed money to create a new fund providing incentives for low-income home development and affordable housing. In a recent address to the Rotary Club of Grand Rapids, Mayor Rosalynn Bliss noted the city’s establishment of the Affordable Housing Community Fund, which is supplemented by revenues captured from development project incentives. That approach well defines tax-and-spend policies. The city bond rating is AA, compared to Kent County’s AAA rating (an interest difference that has saved the city hundreds of thousands of dollars for joint projects). The city’s debt burden per capita is now $1,437, up from $695 in 2015. The city has not considered tax cuts as a partial solution to housing affordability.
The Ottawa communitywide effort can (and likely will) be sustained, unfettered by politics, tax revenue roller coasters, nor tax-and-spend policy. Its long-term success is more assured of stability by community investment, not to mention investment expertise and opportunities unavailable to governments.