GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — As affordable housing continues to be an issue across West Michigan, those on the front lines say it’s only getting worse.

“I’ve talked to people who’ve retired from city government, and they’re not able to live in the communities they were serving in because they can’t afford to live there,” said Eureka People, the president of Housing Kent.

“In many communities right now, especially with apartments, rent keeps increasing significantly,” People added.

But Kent County commissioners believe a new plan will be a “game changer.” The board is dedicating $17.5 million in America Rescue Plan funding to create a Revolving Loan Fund. The county would hire a community development financial institution, which would give out no-interest or low-interest loans to new affordable housing projects in the area.

County Administrator Al Vanderberg estimates it could address 17.5% of the affordable housing need in Kent County.

“But we’re hoping to light a fire and create the kind of vehicle that other organizations can invest in and really take a bite of the affordable housing problem in Kent County,” Vanderberg said.

“We believe it’s transformational,” Vanderberg said about the plan.

Vanderberg said the $17.5 million could skyrocket into a much larger total. The county wants foundations, philanthropists and companies to match it. After that, he says the financial institution could more than triple that amount, creating a $151 million total investment in affordable housing.

“The Kent County Board is really stepping up in this moment in history in saying this is important,” Vanderberg said. “This is important for the quality of life in our county. This is important for the employers in our county, for jobs, for economic growth. We expect this will have indeed a transformational impact.”

Vanderberg said part of the reason the project became reality is because “we’ve seen a wider and wider acceptance of the problem and thus of the need to do something about it.”

“One of the game changers over time has been all of us know somebody,” he said. “Family, friends, coworkers that are all struggling in finding housing.”

Vanderberg said Housing Kent and the Chamber of Commerce proposed Illinois FFI as a potential community development financial institution, although no contact has been made with the group yet. Illinois FFI already has a Grand Rapids office, Vanderberg said.

County leaders hope to get the program under way next year, starting to “move the dial” on affordable housing. Vanderberg said the loans could range from anywhere between 0% and 3% interest.

Eureka People said although the plan is a step in the right direction, much more needs to be done.

“I personally think the first thing to do is not necessary to create a new project, but the first thing to do is to find out which projects we’re already doing in the community effectively and then trying to find a way to scale those projects across Kent County to have more impact,” People said.

People said we need to look big picture, because every community in Kent County has different needs.

“Some areas may need more senior living,” People said. “Some areas may need more affordable housing. Other areas may need other types of amenities or additions to their neighborhoods as it relates to housing. There’s not a one-size-fits-all solution, but we need to have a more comprehensive view.”

Ryan VerWys, the president and CEO of ICCF Community Homes, praised the project, saying ICCF and other nonprofit affordable housing developers are “very supportive of this move.”

“We’ve got ‘shovel-ready’ developments throughout the county that, with this funding, will provide new attainable homes for low-income working families,” VerWys said. “We are ready to partner with the county put these funds to work addressing the need for housing in our community.”