Construction, Economic Development, and Higher Education

LINC Up looks to address affordable housing

Organization partners with GRCC to provide construction students with hands-on experience building houses in Grand Rapids.

March 17, 2017
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Community-driven economic development organization LINC Up is hoping to address the affordable housing dilemma by starting right around the corner.

Braving the return of winter weather, state and local officials were on hand last week to celebrate the announcement of LINC Up’s new partnership with Grand Rapids Community College. The program will provide hands-on experience for construction students while building affordable housing in southeast Grand Rapids. The announcement was held at 507 Umatilla St. SE, the site of the first new home construction.

LINC Up Executive Director Jeremy DeRoo said the Umatilla neighborhood represented stark growth in the area in the past 10 to 15 years. DeRoo noted in the wake of the 2008 housing crisis, homes on the block were being sold for $9,000 and $10,000 apiece. The most recent home sale went for about $105,000.

“This is what neighborhoods do when they work well,” DeRoo said. “But it can’t be done by any one person or organization — it takes everyone coming together. That’s why as you look around, you see groups committed to making neighborhoods better today than they were yesterday.”

The affordable housing crunch in Grand Rapids is something the city is working hard to find a solution to, City Commissioner David Allen said. Allen, who represents the third ward where the project will be focused, said at the time of last week’s event, just 117 single-family homes were for sale in the city, at any price point.

“If you want to buy a house, they don’t exist,” he said. “So, we need all hands on deck to find multiple ways to build more of these.”

Through the partnership, construction students enrolled in GRCC’s Workforce Training program will work with local contractors Lewis Construction and architect Isaac V. Norris to build affordable housing options in the area. By using the student population to staff the workforce, construction costs will be lowered and the selling prices will follow.

Beginning in April, the program will accept up to 16 construction students for a four-month course, consisting of 612 hours of instruction, 80 percent of that working hands-on at the construction sites. Students will work in every aspect of the homebuild and, following completion of the program, will be certified in residential construction, receive OSHA certification and asbestos credentials.

A $331,000 grant from the Michigan State Housing Development Authority will subsidize the construction of four homes, with additional support from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation and the Opportunity Resource Fund also contributing to the partnership. Additionally, Allen said the partnership will be expanded through the Kent County Land Bank Authority to build 15 more homes in the next 18 months.

Julie Parks, the executive director of GRCC’s Workforce Training program, said the partnership will not only provide GRCC students with the opportunity to receive hands-on experience but also the chance to create tangible change in the neighborhoods where many of them grew up. That opportunity makes the program particularly attractive to millennial students who have a desire to give back to their community, she said.

“This way, they’re getting skills to get great jobs along with working on their community; it’s like a double win,” Parks said. “For years, we built houses with Habitat for Humanity, which is the same kind of idea, but so many students are coming from this ZIP code, it just seems natural to do that here.”

DeRoo said the program also will help to address the large disparity when comparing the number of minority students working in construction in Grand Rapids. DeRoo said although the construction industry is one of the quickest growing in the city, 2 percent of the workforce are people of color.

“We have opportunities to make this industry more inclusive as it continues to grow and expand,” DeRoo said. “And we can impact who those opportunities are going to.”

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