Nonprofits join forces to tackle affordable housing shortage in Ottawa County

Amaury Rodriguez was a university professor in Cuba until his ideological and political differences with the Cuban government forced him and his family to flee to Brazil, and eventually arrive in the U.S. as refugees. 

He, his wife, Yusleydi, and their four children have been living in temporary housing since arriving in Holland more than three years ago. Like many across Ottawa County, the family has struggled to find a permanent place to live because affordable housing is in desperately short supply in Ottawa County.

Amaury Rodriguez, his wife, Yusleydi, and their children, have been living in temporary housing since arriving in Holland in 2016. (Courtesy photo: Habitat for Humanity)

The Rodriguez-Matos family will finally move into their own home thanks to the work of local nonprofits that are joining forces to more quickly move the needle on available affordable housing in the Holland area.

The housing shortage “is becoming calamitous,” according to a 2019 Lakeshore Habitat for Humanity report.

Traditionally, Lakeshore Habitat builds an average of five homes a year, but the housing shortage has the nonprofit aiming higher with strategic partnerships that will create mixed-income neighborhoods and allow it to build more houses faster.

“Being able to secure larger pieces of property allows us to keep the costs down per unit,” explains Dave Rozman, development director with Lakeshore Habitat.

Changing with the times

Lakeshore Habitat adapts and changes its model depending on what is happening in the economy, Rozman says. Ten years ago, Habitat could snap up a cheap home and rehabilitate it for a family while keeping costs affordable. Now, it’s almost impossible to find an empty lot at an affordable price, Rozman says.

Lakeshore Habitat has begun partnering with Good Samaritan Ministries and Jubilee Ministries on a handful of larger-scale projects.

A worker adds installation in a new mixed-income housing project being built in Holland.

Two years ago, Lakeshore Habitat and Good Samaritan dedicated their first joint project — an affordable four-unit micro-community in Holland Township. Rental units are not typical for Habitat, but the nonprofit recognizes the need for a variety of affordable housing options along the lakeshore, Rozman says.

In addition to creating affordable rental housing (with Good Samaritan acting as the property manager), the project was a test case for strategic nonprofit housing partnerships, Rozman says.

Good Samaritan will also manage a Jubilee Ministries property at 328 Maple Ave. The townhomes have long been an eyesore in the neighborhood and sat empty for the good part of the past decade. Now, Jubilee is gutting it and turning it into a mixed-income project with six units — four condos (two at market rate, two subsidized) and two rental units. Extensive renovations are underway now, Jubilee Ministries Executive Director Steve Grose says.

The growing need

Between 2009 and 2015, home prices increased 54% in the city of Holland, 44% in Ottawa County, and 46% in Allegan County. The median rental rate in the Holland area increased by 30%, according to statistics compiled by Good Samaritan. Meanwhile, median wages increased by just 4.04%.

A 2019 Housing Next needs assessment showed a need for nearly 300 entry-level for-sale homes by 2022 for those with a household income of $40,000-$70,000 — homes in the $120,000 to $250,000 range. The study listed overcrowding and substandard housing as problems needing to be addressed.

Housing Next is an initiative focused on supporting housing solutions for all income levels in the Holland area and greater Ottawa County.

However, few are building these entry-level homes. As of a June 4, 2019, Housing Next update, no builders were constructing homes that would sell for less than $250,000.

“I think there’s sometimes this negative connotation about who needs affordable housing,” Rozman says. “We are focused on homeownership because we know that is going to create generational wealth. … We’re providing long-term stability.”

The average Habitat homeowner lives in their home for 20 to 30 years. Before owning a home many Habitat home recipients simply hope their kids graduate high school, according to the 2018 Voices of Habitat Homeowners survey; after homeownership, they dream bigger for their kids.

“We’re able to help people plant strong, solid roots in their community,” Rozman says.

Habitat hopes to build eight to 12 houses every year with the help of strategic partners such as Good Samaritan and Jubilee.

Mixed-income community

This year, Jubilee and Habitat will each build five homes on a 3-acre property at 60 E. 40th St. The two nonprofits serve different populations. Habitat focuses on serving the “working poor” who make 30-80% of the median area income.

“Most of (Jubilee Ministries’ clients) are in the 80% to 120% range,” Grose says. “They have decent jobs. Housing is just too expensive for them.”

Though affordable housing was historically clustered together, a mixed-income community is a more desirable neighborhood, Grose says. 

“I think by (clustering), you create areas where people don’t necessarily want to live. You’re not creating healthy environments,” Grose says. “We want to create a neighborhood that people want to live in.”

Jubilee Ministries' Steve Grose gives a tour of a mixed-income housing project under construction in Holland. (Photo by Andrea Goodell)

Jubilee and Habitat are in the process of raising money and seeking bids on infrastructure work for the joint project on 40th Street. They plan to break ground on the first house this summer. More will quickly follow, Rozman says, and they hope to pour multiple foundations at once to save time and money.

The new neighborhood will provide “quality, mixed-income housing choices, which are in significantly short supply,” he says.

The Habitat homes will sell to families for around $160,000, while Jubilee homes will each sell for between $200,000 and $240,000.

Building more projects

In addition to the mortgage subsidized by Habitat, every Habitat family is required to put in 250 hours of sweat equity per adult. These can be hours volunteered in the Habitat ReStore or Habitat office in Holland Township or at financial literacy, budgeting, and homeownership workshops. Families also volunteer on other home builds, and their final volunteer hours are completed working on their own homes.

Each Habitat house is 80% volunteer-built, Rozman says.

Lakeshore Habitat subsidizes its operations in multiple ways, including sales at its ReStore, at 12727 Riley St. in Holland Township, and through donations.

The partner organizations have an even bigger project in the works.

“The Woods” is a nearly 4-acre vacant property declared surplus by the city of Holland. After a lengthy bidding process, the city accepted Jubilee and Habitat’s joint proposal.

The first house could break ground this spring. Before that can happen, engineers are designing infrastructure for the new neighborhood. Estimates are that 20 to 25 homes could go on the now-wooded property.

“This is new territory for us,” says Grose, whose organization has typically performed one home renovation at a time.

The demand for affordable housing is too high not to increase their work at Jubilee, he says.

Habitat and Jubilee have met with the surrounding neighbors  to hear what they would like to see happen in “The Woods.” Though some neighbors were concerned with any potential changes to their neighborhood wooded area, one neighbor spoke up, saying he was glad that if anyone was going to develop the land, he was glad it was Habitat and Jubilee doing it.

Habitat is also developing a property at the corner of Felch Street and Beeline Road into five one-bedroom townhomes designed to be accessible for people with a physical or mental disability.

The move to “simple, decent, affordable homes” helps families in myriad ways including health, education opportunities, and safety and personal wealth, according to a report from Lakeshore Habitat.

Families in both the Jubilee and the Habitat homes will spend no more than 30% of their income on housing costs, including their mortgage, taxes, utilities, and insurance.

Rodriguez, whose family will receive one of the next Habitat homes, says he feels fortunate to have settled in a community where people look out for each other. 

“The kindness, good treatment, courtesy, hospitality, focus on helping those in need, open arms and heart attest to the values of Holland and its people,” says Rodriguez. “My family and I are immensely grateful!”

This article is part of The Lakeshore, a new featured section of Rapid Growth focused on West Michigan's Lakeshore region. Over the coming months, Rapid Growth will be expanding to cover the complex challenges in this community by focusing on the organizations, projects, programs and individuals working to improve conditions and solve problems for their region. As the coverage continues, look for The Lakeshore publication, coming in 2020.
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