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Creativity and inclusivity are what we need for homeownership opportunities

Courtyard of Central Commons development in Holland, Michigan
Central Commons in Holland, Michigan

Two parents + two kids + a white picket fence = not what a growing number of households across our region look like. And it’s long past time we support both small and big changes to ensure we can roll out the welcome mat for everyone who wants to call West Michigan home.

We’ve written before about how our focus on single-family housing has limited our ability to meet the needs of growing communities and different desires of residents of all ages. We’ve also written about how that is starting to change, with communities such as the cities of Grand Haven, Grand Rapids, Holland and Wyoming approving efforts that support more diverse housing at all price points.

Creating homeownership opportunities doesn’t have to be a colossal effort – communities just need creative thinking and a welcoming spirit. When that happens, residents like Joni Gibson and organizations such as Jubilee Ministries can turn their dreams into reality.

Joni alongside her children

One family’s story

For Joni, she wants a sustainable solution for the constant shuffle her four children experience when moving back and forth between their divorced parents’ homes. A longtime Holland resident, Joni was excited to find a vacant lot in her beloved Washington Square neighborhood for sale. She starting thinking: What if we could all live together again?

Washington Square offers a tight-knit neighborhood feel, walkability and proximity to the places Joni and her children love. The challenge: The narrow 7,000-square-foot property was zoned for a commercial use and would need special approval from the City of Holland for a two-family home to become reality. She also needed buy-in from her ex-husband, Steve, and both their partners to live under one roof.

Washington Square

The City’s approval came in “lightning speed” thanks to its willingness to think outside the box about zoning possibilities – and the hard work of Joni’s design team: Nick Rolinski and Har Ye Kan. In addition to navigating the zoning discussions with the City, they kept accessibility at the forefront of the two-story home with its age-in-place design since Joni has multiple sclerosis. The two-family home will have identical floor plans – Joni will be on the main floor and Steve will be on the second floor.

When completed – expected by next fall – the house will allow the kids, ages 12-20, to “travel” between the two floors whenever they want, eliminating the hassle of packing bags and forgetting things at mom’s or dad’s place.

Rendering of Joni's new home
Rendering of Joni's new home

“It’s about applying creativity to the way people actually live versus how we used to live,” Joni says. “This reframes the idea of how we look at divorce and affirms that my family truly does belong here. It also illustrates how multigenerational housing is the future – where are grandma and grandpa going to live? Why not here, with us?

“I am so happy to be able to build something great for me and my family, and I am grateful for the city and the neighborhood to welcome this project. We want to be part of the neighborhood and we want to be an asset to the community.”

One nonprofit’s story

At Jubilee Ministries, Executive Director Steve Grose and his team saw an opportunity back in 2016 to buy four homes in a row on East 16th Street in Holland and started pondering the possibilities. Sure, they could continue their work of fixing up distressed homes one at a time – or they could rethink the properties and add much-needed additional housing to the community.

They landed on developing six small houses on two lots – renovating three of the homes in partnership with Homecor – and creating a private alley for all the homes so their residents wouldn’t have to hassle with driveways off the busy 16th Street-Central Avenue intersection.

This development – dubbed Central Commons – offers 488-square-foot energy-efficient homes that feature one bedroom and one bathroom and serve residents who traditionally are renters. The homes were built around a common area intended to be owner-occupied and managed like a condominium association. These homes also are within walking distance from downtown Holland and served by a sidewalk snowmelt system that allows residents to move about easily in the winter.

This project serves as a model for other communities looking to address the lack of available homeownership opportunities under $150,000. The Central Commons homeowners are able to trade high-dollar rents for affordable and secure housing.

More recently, Jubilee Ministries has renovated a six-unit building on Maple Avenue in Holland into a mixed-income housing development. An “eyesore” for decades with most of its units condemned, the building now offers four for-sale units – two at market rate ($280,000) and two for households earning 80-120% AMI – and two units for rent through Good Samaritan Ministries. The rental units also serve households earning 80-120% AMI.

As the cost of purchasing a house has become out of reach for so many of our neighbors, Steve and his team at Jubilee Ministries carry out their work with this in mind: How can we add more housing stock and be part of the solution?

“The need is so great,” Steve says. “We hear too often that someone has a good job, is pre-approved for a home loan and the house goes for $30,000 over the asking price and a cash offer. Too many people are being shut out of the housing market. We’re hearing stories like this every day, and it’s why we’re working hard to bridge the gap and help people find a quality home.”

We’re proud to partner with Joni, Jubilee Ministries and many others in our community to help create homeownership opportunities that meet the needs and desires of those who want to call West Michigan home.

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