Editorial

Affordable housing deserves ‘intentional investment’

July 7, 2017
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Inner City Christian Federation is expected to close soon on single-family homes and other residential properties in the Grand Rapids area, specifically to develop affordable housing, an urgent need as the city’s residential market continues to climb in value with new construction and escalating existing home prices.

ICCF CEO Ryan VerWys told the Business Journal, “West Michigan is thriving in so many ways, but our supercharged housing market is driving up prices and rents at alarming rates. These dramatic increases are creating a housing crisis for those of us living on the margins.” VerWys also noted neighborhoods have become unaffordable for families who have called them home for generations.

The issue of affordable housing will continue to be the thread that unravels city successes.

Since the recovery of the Great Recession, West Michigan’s housing market has been on a tear, which has resulted in homes rising well above the pricing peak prior to the recession. The median home price in the Grand Rapids-Wyoming area is 22.78 percent above the pre-recession peak, according to HSH.com, a mortgage information website.

The recently released Michigan Association of United Ways study gives one pause — and cause for ICCF support. The findings show 40 percent of Michigan households do not have sufficient income to pay for necessities: housing, child care, food, health care and transportation. In the metro Grand Rapids area, 38 percent of Kent County households can’t pay for those basics. The rate in Ottawa and Kalamazoo counties is 36 percent; in Muskegon County, 40 percent of its households are unable to pay for basics. These factors threaten to disrupt the progress and regional economic stability.

Of note is collaboration between ICCF and other like-minded organizations, such as Habitat for Humanity of Kent County. Habitat’s executive director, BriAnne McKee, sounds an ominous warning: “Without affordable housing options, low-income families are forced to make impossible decisions about how to stretch their limited resources. This may mean going without healthy food or living in an unsafe home because it’s the only place they can afford. Without an intentional investment in affordable housing, the community must understand there will be an increased need for social services.”

The “intentional investment” is the important part of that statement. A community is only as strong as its weakest link, and evidence continues to mount showing affordable housing is the weakest link in West Michigan.

ICCF has a long history of success. It has produced more than 500 “affordable owner-occupied” homes during its 44-year history, along with 168 rental units.

ICCF deserves support as it continues to evaluate the properties and secure financing from commercial and philanthropic partners.

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