Amid shortage, land bank builds affordable homes

Kent County

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — It doesn’t take long for Dave Allen to illustrate the shortage of affordable housing in Grand Rapids.

The Kent County land bank executive director searched online for homes listed between $169,000 and $200,000 across Kent County.

“There’s 88 homes for sale in the entire county at that price point,” Allen explained to 24 Hour News 8 Monday. “(That’s) shockingly low.”

It’s why the land bank now has a new mission and a new name: InnovaLaB.

When the agency launched in 2010, it focused heavily on tax foreclosures and redeveloping properties during the economic crisis.

There are fewer foreclosures now, but the “missing middle” —  the affordable housing shortage — presents the group with a new problem. The agency hopes to tackle it by installing new-age modular homes.

On Monday, InnovaLaB showed 24 Hour News 8 modular floor plans, inside one of the homes and photos of what the finished product will look like.

“The modular product has changed so much,” Ken Parrish, chairman of InnovaLaB, told 24 Hour News 8. “People won’t really be able to tell (it’s a modular home). You won’t see a seam in the middle of the house or anything like that.”

InnovaLaB has about 125 vacant properties around Grand Rapids where it believes the modulars could be placed and sold. Workers are installing the first three “InnovaHomes” this week.

And they’re affordable: ranging from 1,000 to 2,000 square feet, InnovaLaB will list the homes for between $159,000 and $219,000.

“We’re restricting the income (for) some of these next ones we’re doing. We’re going to say you can’t earn more than 125 percent of the area median income,” Allen said, explaining that the city also has restrictions for some of its properties. “We want working class families to be able to afford these.”

“It’s a game-changer for the housing market,” Allen added. “I would definitely say so.”

The Michigan Land Bank Fast Track Authority, which collaborates with local land banks and helped fund the InnovaHomes project, said the efforts in Kent County are the first of their kind in the state and a major change from what land banks are known for.

“They (land banks) get so consumed with blight elimination and tax foreclosure work that they forget to rebuild,” Michigan Land Bank Fast Track Authority Director Josh Burgett told 24 Hour News 8. “I think that’s where land banks all across the state need to go. We need to rebuild.”

Burgett said his agency is already working to help replicate the InnovaLaB model in other communities.

Workers will be installing the new InnovaHomes at a vacant lot on Sigsbee Street SE Tuesday morning and another on Cooper Avenue SE later in the day. The installation is such a quick process that people will be able to check out the inside by the end of the day.

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