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Saturday, 13 October 2018 17:51

Frey Foundation seeks housing solutions with $150K grant

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GRAND RAPIDS — With a proposed grant of up to $150,000, the Frey Foundation joins a growing list of organizations looking to spur creative housing solutions around West Michigan.

The Grand Rapids-based grantmaking organization proposed the funding in late September with the hopes of bringing about “housing innovation” for the roughly one-quarter of the Kent County population defined as “asset limited, income constrained, employed” (ALICE), a measure of a region’s so-called working poor.

“What we want to do is help our ALICE population with housing,” Frey Foundation President Holly Johnson told MiBiz.

Johnson and other housing advocates around the region say that segment of the population requires a significant boost in access to housing. They largely make more than the federal government allows for subsidies, but the existing dynamic of limited inventory and rising prices leaves them with few options they can afford.

The Frey Foundation saw working on new housing solutions as a natural step, given the wide range of other community partners already involved in the space, Johnson said.

“We have so many capable players in our community who are working toward the same thing,” Johnson said. “If we can kind of jump on and continue what a lot of other really good people are already doing, then we just think we might be able to accomplish some of our goals even quicker.”

The Frey Foundation in the past has offered housing grants, but the program marks a novel step for the organization.

“It’s definitely a first that we’re putting a bid out there and kind of doing prize philanthropy, to see what kind of innovation, what kinds of partners can we link up, and also using this opportunity to just learn what partners we’re maybe not aware of who are actively playing and making good strides in this space,” she said.  

The Frey Foundation issued the call for ideas around new housing innovations on Sept. 21. The deadline to respond extends to the end of this month, with an award being announced by the end of the year, according to the Frey Foundation.

Grand Valley Metro Council (GVMC), a Grand Rapids-based regional planning organization, has started assembling a committee that will evaluate the ideas and ultimately select a winner for the grant. That committee had not yet held its first meeting at the time this report went to press.

“For us, (housing is) a significant issue in our community that impacts people, businesses and schools,” said GVMC Executive Director John Weiss, adding that the notion of “prize philanthropy” could bring forward some out-of-the-box ideas. “If we can get some fresh ideas, that’s a great way to do it.”

A ‘hot’ market

The Grand Rapids area has received countless accolades for its housing market in the wake of the Great Recession. Most recently, a part of suburban Kentwood was named the nation’s “hottest ZIP code” by Realtor.com, a Santa Clara, Calif.-based home listing website.

The late September announcement noted that homes in Kentwood’s 49508 ZIP code sold in an average of 14 days — or 52 days faster than the rest of the country — and that the median sale price of more than $193,000 was up 9.5 percent over the previous year. The report also mentioned that homes in the Kentwood ZIP code were priced 33 percent lower than the rest of the county.

Kent County also is expected to add 8,000 jobs next year, an increase of 2.3 percent, according to the company.

“When it comes to choosing a home of their own, Millennials are looking for opportunity and they’re finding it in affordable suburbs,” Danielle Hale, chief economist for Realtor.com, said in a statement. “These hot housing markets are attracting the attention of hard-working, high-earning 25- to 34-year-olds who are drawn by their relative affordability, strong local economies, and outdoor and cultural amenities.”

Avoiding problems

However, the figures cited in the Realtor.com study are cause for concern for housing advocates like Ryan Kilpatrick, one of the GVMC committee members considering the Frey Foundation grant.

Kilpatrick also serves as the executive director of Housing Next, an Ottawa County nonprofit working to spur more housing options and solutions around the West Michigan area.

While noting that he’s unsure what kinds of proposals the grant committee may receive, Kilpatrick said new ideas are greatly needed in the housing construction sector. The $150,000 prize mostly serves to “prime the pump” for housing innovation, he added.

“We have pretty much built housing the same way for the last 70 years,” Kilpatrick said. “We haven’t made investments on a (regional) scale, we’ve made investments on a property-by-property scale.”

Kilpatrick believes that solving housing shortages around the country requires a paradigm shift.

“As we think about expectations on return on investment from a developer’s standpoint — or really moving the needle in terms of affordability and access to amenities and employment — it’s a really piecemeal approach we’ve taken on over the last several decades,” he said. “So from my perspective, I think this is more about how do we upset the system. I hate to say it, but maybe we need to be a little more disruptive.”

Given the need for housing innovation, the Frey Foundation’s Johnson said she hopes to get a wide range of proposals. Because of the organization’s status as a private foundation, it will entertain ideas from nonprofit groups, public sector organizations and higher education. A for-profit company could also be considered if it submits a proposal in collaboration with one of the other types of entities.

“Give us your ideas, give us your best entrepreneurial brain on how we solve this big community issue,” Johnson said. “This is as much a learning process for us as it is for anything.”

Similarly, Kilpatrick views the need for additional housing inventory as mission critical to the region’s continued economic health. He pointed to controversial legislation proposed in California that would allow the state to supersede local zoning ordinances in an effort to get more housing built.

“I think that’s indicative of how powerful the need for more housing choice is in the marketplace,” he said. “Unless West Michigan wants to get to the point California is in now, where we have this top-down, state-mandated legislation that tends to not always work very well from a local municipality’s perspective, then we need to start working collaboratively on a regional basis to find solutions that legitimately solve the problem.”

Read 512 times Last modified on Sunday, 14 October 2018 20:35

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