Government and Real Estate

City adopts revised Great Housing Strategies

Officials supported the plan as a framework but voiced need for more work.

December 11, 2015
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Based on feedback and recommendations submitted during the public comment period ending Nov. 20, the Grand Rapids City Commission approved the adoption of an expanded and revised Great Housing Strategies: Addressing Current and Future Housing Needs during the Dec. 8 Committee of the Whole meeting.

Connie Bohatch, managing director of community services for the city of Grand Rapids, said the final document, which has had some enhancements as a result of public comment, is the end result of a seven-month process.

“While it may sound like a very long time, it is a really short time period to do this type of work that addresses some very complex issues,” said Bohatch during the meeting. “As we got into this project, those who were involved began to realize how complex addressing the current and future needs of housing in Grand Rapids is and some of the limitations we have moving forward regarding state laws.”

The Great Housing Strategies goals were identified by four workgroups of nearly 90 individuals during a two-month process, addressing current and future housing needs by providing a variety of housing choices, encouraging mixed-income neighborhoods, creating and preserving affordable housing, and supporting low-income and vulnerable populations.

Other goals were to support employers and workforce development, encourage alternate transportation and parking options, and advocate for change to state and federal policies.

The final Great Housing Strategies document has expanded to include 35 recommended actions from its original 32 proposals included in the eight overall goals. Revisions were made based on comments during the Oct. 5 through Nov. 20 public comment period, which also included a public hearing Nov. 17, according to the city agenda.

Bohatch indicated the three additional action items are intended to address issues related to home ownership and single-family units, the nearly 1,000 single-family homes registered that are currently vacant, and existing impediments to fair housing.

“While the document seemed to be heavily focused on rental housing, we wanted to make sure we didn’t lose sight of home ownership, and family housing, in particular,” said Bohatch. “There was an action added supporting existing programs and tools that create and preserve quality affordable housing.”

The three new actions were to: “support existing programs and tools that create and preserve quality affordable housing,” focusing on continuing programs such as code compliance and acquisition and development for resale; “use the high number of vacant homes to increase the supply of affordable housing,” which addresses redevelopment and exploration of enforcement tools to prevent holding of property in non-productive use; and “address impediments to fair housing,” which is intended to encourage fair housing education, enforcement and strategies.

“This document really is intended to be a framework to move forward as we talk about housing policies, practices and build partnerships,” said Bohatch. “This work isn’t the city’s work alone. It will take a lot of partners and there is a lot more work to do to implement the actions identified.”

First Ward Commissioner Dave Shaffer indicated while the City Commission was not voting to actually change zoning during the meeting, he did want to voice his concern regarding the proposal to scale back on maximum benefit incentives for development projects in the city.

“Sometimes you have existing sites that are challenging: Either the building is outdated or the new dirt needs to be cleaned. To be able to give the maximum benefit we can allows us to be able to have those projects within our city,” said Shaffer.

“I would rather see increased incentives if you provide affordable units. It seems to be a better balance to meet and the ability for us to see affordable units, yet not stop what I think is good about adding new market-rate supply in our city,” continued Shaffer.

Bohatch also said while recently participating in a national conversation in Washington, D.C., regarding housing, it was communicated that the resources traditionally coming from the federal level are not going to be there in the future.

“It was very clearly communicated this will become a local problem, a state problem,” said Bohatch. “The sooner we can figure out locally how to support … the development of mixed income and creating viable neighborhoods through housing development and preservation, the better off we are going to be.”

Second Ward Commissioner Ruth Kelly said she appreciates all the work that has been done and reiterated it is a framework and a start to addressing a very complex issue.

“One of the major things we accomplished was to understand the complexity itself and understand how much education we need to do around this,” said Kelly. “It is unfortunate we are not going to have the same degree of federal resources, but it is imperative therefore we engage — we were very deliberate in engaging — all parties; we still need to make a deliberate effort to engage those who are most impacted directly around housing needs.”

Second Ward Commissioner and Mayor-Elect Rosalynn Bliss indicated the complexity of the housing issue involves other aspects such as education, access to employment, transportation and child care availability to ensure individuals can maintain jobs. While there are organizations working to address housing in Grand Rapids, Bliss said there is a lot more work to be done to attract and retain residents with diverse housing options.

“I anticipate it will evolve and change over time,” said Bliss in reference to the housing plan. “My hope is, really, next year we pick up the mantle and move forward and say, ‘How do we move forward, what does that structure look like, what are our ultimate goals and what are our metrics?’”

Third Ward Commissioner Elias Lumpkins indicated safety, housing and strengthening neighborhoods are interrelated, and it is important to keep in mind the systemic impact on the city when planning and look at the “whole organism, not just a portion of it.”

The final draft plan was expected to be made available for public viewing online at by the end of last week.

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