Neighborhoods want input on affordable housing moves

Grand Rapids

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — It is a concern all over Grand Rapids: As more neighborhoods are revitalized, those areas become less affordable for low-income residents.

To help solve the problem, Grand Rapids city leaders have been working on changing zoning ordinances and creating other development tools. The measures are designed to create opportunities for LINC UP and other community-based organizations, as well as private developers, to build more affordable housing.

“These zoning recommendations are removing those practices that act as intentional impediments to affordable housing,” Jeremy DeRoo, the executive director of LINC UP, said.

City officials have committed at least a million dollars a year to address the problems and a task force has been pushing new initiatives.

But a collaborative of Grand Rapids neighborhood associations has concerns.

One of the relaxed zoning laws allows more housing on smaller slices of land, with the idea that more inventory will mean cheaper prices.

Ada Mbonu, bilingual community engagement specialist with the West Grand Neighborhood Association, says that’s only an assumption.

“There has been a lot of talk about how density can improve affordability, but studies have shown that living wages and home ownership are actually better keys to affordability,” Mbonu said.

Another concern is neighborhood input. So-called by right developments allow developers to build qualifying projects in some areas of the city without going to the planning commission, avoiding public hearings.

“As neighborhood association representatives who are here to represent the people who are in our neighborhoods, we can’t support something that takes away resident voice,” said Jessica Solis with Seeds of Promise, an urban community improvement initiative that operates primarily in Southeast Grand Rapids neighborhoods.

“We feel like there has not been adequate community engagement around this. There hasn’t been enough time because this stuff came out very fast,” Solis added.

Members of the collaborative say they recognize the affordable housing problem in the city and want to work for solutions, but they want their concerns heard.

The City Commission will talk about the issues Feb. 20 and could vote to hold a public hearing on the new measures.

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