New tools help Housing Next connect communities, developers

Affordable housing has been front of mind for nonprofits and municipalities around West Michigan for some time.

The process of bringing housing to market for the “missing middle” is by its nature a slow one, but Housing Next, which seeks to connect developers, nonprofits, and local governments to increase housing stock has seen some big wins this year, and the nonprofit isn’t slowing down.

Robinson Landing

Robinson Landing was one of the nonprofit’s biggest projects of 2022, says Brooke Oosterman, director of policy and communications at Housing Next.

The affordable, owner-occupied development of 30 single-family homes (16 income-restricted, 14 market-rate) was made possible by the Housing Next Partnership and a $1.5 million impact investment from the Grand Haven Area Community Foundation into Michigan Community Capital. The partnership came together to create the Grand Haven Area Community Land Trust, which provided publicly owned land at a reduced cost, slashed sewer/water connection fees through Brownfield Tax Increment Financing and the County Land Bank. The project was designed to support fair and sustainable homeownership in a local market where the average price of a home exceeds what the median income family can afford by more than 40%. To date, all income-restricted units have been sold with a few market-rate homes still available.
Robinson Landing mixed income neighborhood was made possible by the Housing Next Partnership and a $1.5 million impact investment from the Grand Haven Area Community Foundation.

Great need

The need for affordable housing is great everywhere, Oosterman says.

Housing Next’s 2021 Ottawa County Housing Needs Assessment showed the gap between needed and available owner-occupied homes had tripled since 2018; the assessment projected about a quarter of the needed rental units would actually be available between 2020 and 2025. It estimated that 37,000 new housing units will be needed in the county by 2025.

The Housing Next initiative is a partnership among local municipalities, nonprofit agencies, regional Community Development Financial Institutions, and for-profit developers. The partnership has been able to support workforce and market-rate housing projects by bridging the divide between developers and municipal decision-makers to help both sides understand the needs, desires, and concerns of the other.

New tools

Some of the biggest wins for Housing Next have most recently come in the form of advocacy and reform, Oosterman says.

Both Ottawa and Kent counties have established multi-million dollar revolving loan funds with federal American Rescue Plan dollars.

The money ($17 million in Kent County, $10 million in Ottawa County) allows Housing Next and its municipal partners to leverage and match the private investment dollars in the community for the creation and rehabilitation of housing.

Investment by the county allows for those projects to be funded with lower interest rates and creates a tool that allows business leaders and nonprofits to donate to the pot to pool money and have an even higher impact.

“At the end of the day, it’s really difficult to build below market housing with the costs continuing to increase,” Oosterman says.

The community investment is necessary to bring these projects to market.

A new package of bills signed into law this month by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signed are aimed at creating tools to alleviate the affordable housing shortage in Michigan.

“We see these tools as an opportunity to really pull in what is needed to make those projects work,” Oosterman says.

Housing Next has projects in the pipeline now that will benefit from the new tools moving forward, she says.

The bills will create tax incentives for creating and rehabilitating affordable housing and create a state housing development authority and funds to support housing development, land acquisition and development, and rehabilitation.

“We urgently need more housing options in Michigan. Our bipartisan legislation helps homeowners to make affordable upgrades to their existing homes and assists communities to construct new housing at attainable price points,” says Sen. Jeremy Moss, D-Southfield, the sponsor of one of the bills. “We are thankful the Governor signed these bills into law so we can retain our valued residents and attract job-seekers to Michigan.”

In July, the Housing Next partnership received a Housing and Urban Development Secretary’s Award for Public-Philanthropic Partnerships.

“The collaboration of many public, private and philanthropic partners is what allowed Housing Next to focus on addressing our region’s housing problem,” says Hadley Streng, president of the Grand Haven Area Community Foundation and founding member of the partnership, who accepted the award on behalf of the leadership council. “Considerable work has been done over the last five years and there is even more of a need for additional emphasis now than there was when Housing Next formed.”

Here are some other highlights from the year in Ottawa County:
  • Developers broke ground in November at the site of the former Grand Haven Tribune building, which will be redeveloped into a 39-unit apartment complex in downtown Grand Haven known as Tribune Lofts. Housing Next supported the project that will add to rental stock needed for workforce housing for households earning 80-100% of the Ottawa County area median income.
  • Work is wrapping up at Park Vista Place in Holland. The partnership between Jubilee and Lakeshore Habitat is located at 60 E 40th St. Currently all five Lakeshore Habitat Homes have been built and sold with Jubilee Houses finalizing families moving into their five homes.
  • Dwelling Place’s partnership in Holland has been approved with 46 new units. The partnership project among Dwelling Place, First United Methodist, and Hope Church creates a 31-unit residential building at 57 W. 10th St. and a 15-unit residential building at 100 W. 10th St. These units provide affordable housing options in an economic climate where there is an increased demand, increased construction costs and a labor shortage hurdles that will require continued support and partnership.
  • Lakeshore Habitat for Humanity has officially begun development of their first set of townhomes. The site work for Buttermilk Creek Townhomes has started on Prospect Street in Hudsonville to begin preparing for the construction phase.
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