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Affordable housing workshop to tackle development issues in Grand Rapids

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One of the workshops at the Neighborhood Summit next March will seek community input on housing policies, in an effort to create more choices and less disparity.
Hermitage Street

Hermitage Street /Eric Tank

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Grand Rapids Neighborhood Summit

Friday, March 11, 2016

9:45 a.m. to 4 p.m.

In March 2015, the City hosted its first annual Strong Neighborhoods, Strong Cities Neighborhood Summit. Over 350 community leaders, organizers and citizens gathered to join in the conversation about how to strengthen Grand Rapids neighborhoods. At the end of the summit a task force was assigned to address some of the major concerns on the minds of our residents. 

Affordable housing is on the minds of many of our residents. As the city grows and neighborhoods see new development, it is increasingly important that our city is able to meet the housing needs of all residents. While it is exciting to see new construction and redevelopment in neighborhoods like Heartside, the “near” west side and Eastown, residents are seeing the cost of housing rise. Unfortunately some neighborhoods are seeing significant displacement because longtime residents can no longer afford the new market rates that are now setting the bar.

In response to these concerns, the City created the Great Housing Strategies Task Force in April 2015. The task force set out to highlight several of the concerns residents have expressed: provide a variety of housing choices, encourage mixed-use neighborhoods, create and preserve affordable housing, support low income and vulnerable populations, support workforce development, encourage alternate transportation, change public perception and finally advocate for change at the local and state levels. This plan and initiative can be seen in its entirety on the City’s website and will be recommended to the City Commission on December 8, 2015.

For the 2016 Strengthening Neighborhoods Task Force, our committee decided to explore what housing choices will be created by the Great Housing Strategies’ recommendations, how it will impact policy and create change in the community. We want to explore what other communities have faced when confronted with new growth and development and what other models have been successful and what still needs to happen in Grand Rapids to truly address all issues facing the current housing market.

Our goal is to bring both local and regional perspectives together to take a further look at the current policies and recommendation and give residents the information they need when searching for housing. We believe that there are some great models from other cities that can work in Grand Rapids.

We will present a workshop on affordable housing with presenters familiar with recommendations in the Great Housing Strategies complation, as well as a presenter that has done some great work in larger communities that faced the same “growing” pains that Grand Rapids is experiencing. We want to give people more than information- but also provide practical ways to help their neighborhood deal with growth, increased market rents and how to prevent displacement.

The workshop intends to explain the different types of housing that are currently available and help define the choices. For instance, we seek to explain the difference between low income, affordable and market rate housing. We also hope to facilitate dialogue about some of the other housing initiatives that are happening in the City. There are many options already in place but knowing what works and matching up the right choices with the right people seems still seems to be falling short.

The biggest goal we have for our workshop is to get input from the community on what they still feel needs to happen to create a broader housing policy that encourages diverse housing choices and less disparity. We believe that all the players- developers, property managers, residents, neighborhood leaders, private landlords and city personnel- need to be a part of the “what happens next" conversation. It is great to have the support from our City leaders and we are enthusiastic about the upcoming changes, but we still feel there is much work to be done.

The Summit is a great place to gather input and give neighborhood leaders good information to bring back to their communities. We are excited to collaborate on this important issue and hope that we can help show the value of these types of events to our City. It is important to work together as a community and give others ownership and encouragement to create change.

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