Well House new development fund creates an avenue for sustainable growth

Since January 2013, 47 people have moved into Well House out of homelessness, and 88 percent have not experienced homelessness since. 

In an effort to provide stability and longevity to Well House’s mission of providing safe and affordable housing to the homeless in Southeast Grand Rapids, the organization is creating a new development fund made possible by a $60,000 grant recently awarded by the Grand Rapids Community Foundation

“Well House is a great example of ‘Housing First’ – providing access to low-cost permanent housing with supports available, but no mandatory services or other barriers to housing,” says GRCF Executive Director Diana Sieger. 

The development fund will allow for Well House to be more sustainable, recycling rent profits – $250 per month for an individual tenant and $350 for two tenants – back into the development fund, creating more resources for Well House to continue to acquire and rehabilitate more vacant and boarded-up homes.

“We think this represents a creative use of grant dollars, meeting a growing need for affordable housing in the community,” Sieger says. 

Tami VandenBerg, executive director of Well House, says the organization plans on continuing to purchase homes through the Kent County Land Bank, adding that the existing six Well House homes currently occupied by tenants have cost anywhere from $3,000 and $25,000 to purchase and $30,000-$50,000 to rehab and renovate. 

If you ask VandenBerg, Well House is designed to offer the most obvious – yet often overlooked – solution to homelessness in Grand Rapids. 

“We firmly believe the solution to homelessness is housing,” says VandenBerg, whose organization works to provide safe and affordable housing to the homeless. “Although this seems obvious, it's not.”

She says Well House has received a few hundred housing applicants since she became executive director in 2012, attributing the high demand in part to Well House’s prioritization of individuals who are often turned away from other subsidized housing solutions because of felony convictions or addiction issues. Out of the 42 adults that have passed through Well House since January 2013, 64 percent were denied housing by other organizations. 

“If we think someone could get in to somewhere else, then we really try to direct them that way,” she says. “We’re so small, we really try to keep our rooms for people who are much less likely to get any other housing.”

VandenBerg says Well House just wants to offer the kind of long-term solutions that “meet people where they’re at,” including fostering a renewed sense of community and self-sufficiency for a population more typically dealt short-term fixes. 

“Having people live in emergency services while they're in a shelter or soup kitchen, it's not a solution,” she says. “It's basically just management at that point. It's managing a problem; it's not solving a problem. We're interested in long-term solutions.”

Written by Anya Zentmeyer 
Images courtesy of Lisa Beth Anderson and Katy Batdorff
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