Economic Development, Government, and Real Estate

GR pilot establishes rental help

City, housing commission aims to help renters overcome housing barriers.

September 28, 2018
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While the city of Grand Rapids irons out the kinks in Housing NOW!, the city, along with the Grand Rapids Housing Commission, are opening doors to hopeful, low-income renters by establishing a two-year pilot for a Rental Assistance Center.

The city commission recently approved the formation of a Rental Assistance Center that will connect households that earn 80 percent or less of the area median income with vacant rental properties and refer “rent-ready” applicants to landlords, increasing the efficiency of the rental search for households and landlords.

The AMI is $56,460 for a four-person household, according to the Heart of West Michigan United Way.

Households that are not “rent-ready” — do not meet established landlord criteria — will be referred to a resident service coordinator who can help them overcome barriers to secure rental housing. All of this would be done through an online portal that will provide a single access point for certifying households as “rent-ready” and serve as a clearinghouse for landlords searching for renters.

Applicants also will meet in person with their resident service coordinator, who will conduct assessments and provide referrals to community agencies that can help them overcome the barriers to securing rental housing. Support may include assistance with paying a security deposit, securing utilities, overcoming poor landlord references, “good renter” classes, clearing money owed to former landlords and credit repair, among others.

“The issue of affordable housing is at a high pitch in our community,” said Carlos Sanchez, executive director of the Grand Rapids Housing Commission. “Too many people are having difficulty with the housing voucher application process and aren’t able to find affordable housing. Through the Rental Assistance Center, we can find out what’s preventing them from getting into housing and help them overcome those barriers.”

The Grand Rapids Housing Commission manages and maintains the city’s public housing, which includes apartments for families and seniors. It also administers the federal Section 8 housing voucher program in the greater Grand Rapids area.

Mayor Rosalynn Bliss touted the Rental Assistance Center as another tool in the city’s Housing NOW! initiative, a package of 11 policy proposals around key housing issues.

“This investment strengthens our commitment to addressing housing affordability in our city,” Bliss said. “We are pleased to work with the housing commission to help families reduce or eliminate the barriers that prevent them from finding a place to live.”

According to previous Business Journal reports, the 11 proposals that make up Housing NOW! are:

1. Proposed ordinance amendment to reduce payment in lieu of taxes (PILOT) fees

2. Proposed policy amendment to provide homeownership incentives

3. Proposed ordinance to provide incentives for small-scale development

4. Proposed policy amendment to provide incentives for affordable housing in the NEZ tool

5. Proposed policy to encourage voluntary development agreements for affordable housing

6. Proposed ordinance to provide incentives for increased density

7. Proposed policy to provide requirements for affordable housing whenever the city is a partner in an affordable housing project

8. Proposed ordinance to permit accessory dwelling units by right

9. Proposed ordinance to permit non-condo, zero-lot-line housing

10. Proposed ordinance to regulate rental applications

11. Proposed policy to establish the Affordable Housing and Preservation Fund

According to an action request in the city commission’s Sept. 18 agenda packet, the Rental Assistance Center would complement the balance of Housing NOW! by providing low-income renters referrals for credit repair and other corrective services and direct assistance with applications to better enable them to secure housing.

The investment would include exploration and potential implementation of a “rental readiness certificate” that could be used by applicants if accepted in the marketplace. The Rental Assistance Center also could be listed as one of the resources on the rental application disclosure form to be received by applicants under the new ordinance.

The city agreed to provide $91,800 each year during the two-year pilot program, which will cover software licenses, phones, office expenses, credit reports for 1,000 applicants and one full-time resident service coordinator for 250 rent-ready applicants per year.

A budget amendment for this purpose will be presented at a later city commission meeting.

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