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Creativity + Collaboration = Winning Combo in Housing Crisis

Updated: Jul 1, 2021

It’s no secret our region is kind of a big deal – Ottawa and Kent counties are now the fastest-growing counties in the state thanks, in part, to top-notch institutions of higher education and job opportunities in various sectors.

Together, the counties gained nearly 90,000 residents between 2010 and 2021 – 61,190 in Kent County and 28,029 in Ottawa County. That’s a 9.5% increase over 10 years.

It’s also no secret this growth has put a tremendous strain on our region’s ability to offer enough – and affordable – housing for not only those who want to call West Michigan home but for those who already do. Put simply, we have a housing problem.

Kent and Ottawa counties have produced less than one new home for every 10 new residents. You certainly don’t need a degree from one of our colleges or universities to know that’s a problem.

And it’s not just a West Michigan thing – nationwide, we’re 5.5 million housing units short of long-term historical levels, according to a new National Association of Realtors report. This includes single-family homes and multi-unit buildings.

The numbers don’t lie

Locally, we’ve crunched the numbers to put a finer point on this issue:

  • 14,618 = the number of new rental homes at all price points we need in Kent and Ottawa counties combined by 2025.

  • 17,278 = the number of new for-sale homes at all price points we need in Kent and Ottawa counties combined by 2025.

In Grand Rapids – home of a variety of colleges and universities as well as growing workforces in everything from health care to manufacturing to technology, just to name a few – a total of nearly 9,000 additional rental and homeownership homes are needed over the next five years to keep up with demand.

Meanwhile, and due in large part to the scarcity of homes available for rent and purchase, roughly half of the renters in Grand Rapids are cost-burdened – meaning they spend more than 30 percent of their income on housing costs, including rent and utilities.

That’s why developers like Dan Terpstra are working closely with city leaders and neighborhoods to bring more housing to our region in a thoughtful and deliberate way that relieves pressure on older homes and housing costs.

An exterior rendering of 810 Fulton.

Dan’s latest development – “shared housing” townhouses at 810 Fulton St. W. near Grand Valley State University’s downtown Grand Rapids campus – offers seven units that can help to keep existing residential homes in the neighborhood from becoming “student housing” while providing new options for people seeking housing near downtown. Each three-story townhouse has four bedrooms – all with a private en suite bathroom – and common areas such as a kitchen and living room.

Now, before you label Dan a “student housing landlord” – certainly something he’s heard over the past 15 years since he started acquiring houses and rehabbing them – 50% of the tenants in the newly opened townhouses are young professionals who need attainable housing and otherwise would compete with lower-income residents for the limited supply of older homes in the neighborhood.

A little YIMBY goes a long way

As one Grand Rapids city commissioner noted when Dan met with the neighborhood association and other neighbors during the project approval process: “This is keeping six or seven houses from being scooped up or demolished as we work to add more rental and owner-occupied units in the city.” The development was on vacant land rezoned mixed-density residential and did not displace any existing homes.

The neighborhood welcomed this project with a “yes in my backyard,” or YIMBY, response, knowing its and the city’s long-term sustainability and vibrancy depend on creative win-win solutions like this when coupled with more affordable and income-restricted options.

An interior rendering of 810 Fulton.

And it’s not one and done in this neighborhood for Dan – he plans to build similar shared housing townhomes just down the street at 937 Fulton St. W. Work on this project begins in July – and not a moment too soon for the nearly 50 people on the waiting list for the townhouses at 810 Fulton St. W., which just welcomed their first group of new residents earlier this month.

Dan has created similar shared housing in Holland – home of Hope College – through the Hilltop Cottages development, which offers six two-family units that each feature four bedrooms with private en suite bathrooms and a common area. That project is in a highly-desirable neighborhood near many of the amenities that make downtown Holland so special. Again, Dan worked with city leaders and neighbors to make sure Holland could provide attainable housing for students and young professionals alike while aligning with the community’s vision for the future.

Developers like Dan aren’t building thousands of new housing units at deep low-income price points, but they are a critical part of the solution to our region’s housing crisis. In the effort to ensure that every individual and family has housing choices that are within their budget, we also need to ensure that there is enough housing to go around and that it's properly sized for the variety of households and living situations in our communities. Dan is building incrementally at the neighborhood scale and ensuring each project fits within the context of the surrounding community while still offering a slightly greater level of density and housing choice for the neighborhood. His investments aren't a comprehensive solution all by themselves, but when coupled with investments from non-profits and community-aligned business partners who are working to preserve existing affordable units and create new ones, we might have a chance at creating a more equitable and stable neighborhood environment.

Housing Next works side by side with both for-profit and nonprofit developers to ensure our region can roll out the welcome mat to households of all types – college students, young professionals, low- and middle-income families, aging seniors, and all the folks looking for a broader variety of housing choices in the market. Supply is a critical element to solving our housing shortage. And as we have said before, community efforts to support more supply should also be paired with housing stability and limited subsidies to make sure every family has a fair shot at a decent quality of life.

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