As Mayor Rosalynn Bliss looks ahead to her third year in office, she’s tasked with leading a maturing city and grappling with the associated growing pains. The city also faces issues ranging from a constrained housing market to external factors such as potential changes to the federal tax code, which could have consequences for municipalities. Moreover, City Hall just started the process of searching for a new city manager with the hope of having a candidate selected in the first quarter of 2018.
The search for a new city manager has come up in recent conversations with the businesses executives in Grand Rapids. Would you consider someone with private-sector experience for the job?
Our city has a long history and legacy of public and private collaboration, and we need a city manager who genuinely values that and is committed to it and sees that we’re stronger when we’re able to work together, especially around common community goals. So you’re absolutely right: We’re going to be looking for someone who can work well and in partnership with our business community.
What will that look like?
I think we definitely will be looking for certain qualities around expertise and running a large organization. But beyond that, it needs to be someone who really understands the value of the business community, and that great cities are places where businesses can thrive.
How should the new city manager approach economic development?
We want to support the businesses that are here to stay, but also to expand, and we want to attract new businesses. We want to support startups and entrepreneurs, but we also need to support the local economy. That requires really understanding and having a good sense of how do you do that. How do you support both small businesses all the way up to the large businesses, and recognizing that there’s different needs. But the city can play a role in being supportive of those.
Is it a priority to seek a candidate from outside the region?
I don’t necessarily think so. My hope is that we get a really incredible pool of candidates, and there very well may be a number of people right here from Grand Rapids who choose to apply. Or individuals from Grand Rapids who maybe moved away, and they want to come back. I anticipate we’ll have some internal candidates. I’m not sure. But my ultimate hope is that we have really strong candidates that we can choose from, and that we have a handful of final candidates and would be happy with any one of them, right? That’s always the goal, that you have three great people to choose from, and that you’d be happy even if your number one didn’t get selected.
Affordable housing has been a major issue for you since becoming mayor. What do you think you’ve accomplished on that front in the last year?
I think we still have work to do. We’ve seen a lot of continued growth in the city. We’ve seen incredible development. With that, we’ve seen struggles within the housing market, and people having the ability to find affordable housing in the city. We’ve spent a lot of time here at City Hall figuring out next steps, and what we want do. We’ve had work sessions. I had the housing advisory committee that was pulled together, and they met for six months. We had recommendations that came from that.
What recommendations does the city plan to take up?
We just recently looked at moving forward some of those recommendations. We are in the process of setting up the housing (trust) fund, very likely, under the Grand Rapids Housing Commission, but we’re still finalizing that through the attorney’s office. So I think we’ve made progress, but … like I said, it’s very early on, and we really haven’t seen the fruit of those changes just yet.
What role can the private sector play with regards to increasing the stock of affordable housing in the city?
The private sector is actually a significant part of the solution. I mean, I’ve consistently said there’s only so much the public sector can do, and we’ve been actively doing that. I would say, this past year I have been much more vocal at the state level and advocating for Low Income Housing Tax Credits (LIHTC). But when it comes to that affordable housing, I do think that it’s going to take developers who continue to try to find creative solutions. I recognize that it’s really expensive to build right now, so we have to come up with some creative solutions. There have been some developers who are taking that on.
How could federal tax reform affect projects using LIHTC in Grand Rapids?
When it comes to this issue, they’re talking about making changes to the New Market tax credit, and also the historic tax credits. We know, especially when it comes to redevelopment of historic buildings, it’s very costly, and those tax credits are critical to helping some projects actually come to fruition. So I’m really concerned about that. I’ve already voiced that concern to our senators and our congressmen. Then at the state level, though, there’s some progress in looking at state historic tax credits. So there’s some movement looking at that, here at the state. Of course, we want to be right there and aligned with the developers who are also advocating for those incentives.