From homeless to helping: Holland leader shares his Habitat story

A little more than 10 years ago, things were looking pretty bleak for the Byrd family.

Quincy Byrd had lost his job as a metrologist at Trans-Matic Manufacturing, Inc, and his wife, Sara, stayed home with their kids because they couldn’t find daycare they could afford.

The family was facing homelessness during the Great Recession.

It took a lot for Quincy Byrd to set aside his pride and accept help from Habitat for Humanity. In the decade since the Byrd family has been in their 22nd Street Habitat home, and their lives have changed dramatically.

“I’ve always been a dreamer,” Byrd says. “Some people can go a lifetime and never see a path to that dream. We have had the opportunity to see some of those dreams really happen.”

Quincy Byrd is now seeing another side of the affordable housing crisis. This time as an at-large member of the Holland City Council. 

“I look at it through a different lens than some,” Byrd says. When the topic of affordable housing arises in council chambers as it has frequently in the past few years, it is a more emotional topic for Byrd than most of his colleagues.

“We need housing, period,” Byrd says. “At the same time, we need a diverse housing market.”

He has voted both for and against affordable housing proposals in recent months. The single “no” vote was in the case of a development where Byrd thought some pieces were missing from the overall puzzle. 

The city has incentives for affordable housing developers and is rewriting its local zoning ordinances to encourage affordable housing.

‘Building family memories’

Ten years after facing homelessness, Byrd is now an engineer at Pridgeon & Clay in Grand Rapids. Sara works part-time at the Holland Community Aquatic Center and Holland West Elementary School.

Now they’re able to afford the little extras: softball registrations, an occasional family vacation — “building family memories,” Quincy Byrd says.

“Before, it was just ‘where are we going to get the money to pay this bill?’” Sara Byrd says.

The couple has four children Quincy II, 24; Holly, 13; Ethan, 10; and Daisy, 9.

Before their house was built, the Byrds were considered homeless.

‘Go to Habitat!’

The family had to put in a total of 500 hours of sweat equity — 250 for each adult. Some of that was volunteering with Habitat or attending homeownership workshops. The rest was from helping to build their new home.

“When you’re building your own house, you don’t even think about it. You’re excited,” Sara Byrd says.

“I want to yell from the mountaintop: ‘Go to Habitat for Humanity,’” Quincy Byrd says.

Byrd is a former Lakeshore Habitat for Humanity board member and he says he will probably serve on the board again when he has more time. Byrd and his family have helped guide three families to Habitat who now have homes of their own. They are always encouraging people to donate to Habitat for Humanity.

“I beat on that drum of ‘Go to Habitat! Go to Habitat’ because look where I am!” Byrd says. “It will probably be a lifelong commitment, because of what they have given me.”

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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