New developments take a small stab at affordable housing crisis

In October, the Grand Rapids’ City Commission took action to advance plans for three proposed affordable housing developments: Garfield Park Lofts, developed by LINC Up Nonprofit Housing Corporation; Plaza Roosevelt, a Habitat for Humanity of Kent County project; and Inner City Christian Federation’s Eastern Elementary School renovation.

“Combined, these projects plan to build 151 units of housing, of which 136 units will be available to households earning 80 percent of area median income, or below, helping achieve the goals of the Housing NOW! Initiative,” says Kara Wood, the City’s managing director of Economic Development Services. “These three projects also mark the first significant investment of grants by the City’s Local Brownfield Revolving Fund program.”

LINC Up Nonprofit Housing Corporation has already broken ground on the $9.4 million Garfield Park Lofts project. The three-story residential building at 100 Burton St. SE will provide 36 rental units to households earning 60 percent of the Area Median Income (AMI) or below. Fifteen units will be available to households earning 30 percent AMI or below. On the path to LEED Silver certification, the building will be a significant part of the public infrastructure improvements planned along Burton Street SE via the South Division, Burton, Hall, Grandville Avenue Corridor Improvement Authority. The new apartment building is slated to open November 2019.

“The Garfield Park Lofts project really came about in response to a need for affordable housing. Our residents will be, typically, working families making between $10 and $15 an hour. Affordable housing is the number one concern we hear when talking to residents,” says Jeremy DeRoo, Executive Director, LINC Up. “Right now, in every part of Grand Rapids, affordable housing is being lifted up as a high priority.”

A few miles northwest, the $40 million Plaza Roosevelt redevelopment project includes 17 Habitat Kent homes, two 24-unit residential buildings with first-floor commercial space built by Dwelling Place of Grand Rapids, a new Grand Rapids Public Schools high school, and a plaza or park.

The Eastern Elementary redevelopment, a $14.5 million project at 815 Malta St. NE, will renovate the historic building into a mixed-use development that includes 50 residential apartments and approximately 2,000 square feet of office space on the ground floor.

While 151 households will find affordable homes in these projects, they only make a minor dent in the issue at hand. Policy regulating rent increases, finding ways to stop gentrification from displacing families, and offering jobs that pay more — rather than hype about more jobs — could be part of a real solution. (In 2017, the average CEO earned 312 times as much as the average worker.) DeRoo agrees that local wages have not kept step with the region’s growing economy and the growing costs of living here.

“There are too many people who are not making enough money to be able to afford a home that they can live in. We have very low unemployment, yet many still cannot afford to live in the City of Grand Rapids,” he says. “We need to find ways to make sure people have access to career pathways that allow them to fully participate in the growing economy that exists here in West Michigan.”

Garfield Park Lofts rendering courtesy LINC Up Nonprofit Housing Corporation

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