Small but important steps toward new housing

Thirteen new housing units are coming to Hesperia and White Cloud in Newaygo and Oceana counties, thanks to a $300,000 award from the Fremont Area Community Foundation’s Housing Partnership Fund.

The need for more local housing development in this rural area of western Michigan has been identified in several studies, with all of them pointing to a demand for all types and prices of housing. 

Newaygo County in western Michigan is home to about 50,000 people.The 13 housing units funded by the grant represent small but important steps in this rural county and will help the two communities most in need.

“What is the most unique piece about these 13 units, is the communities they are located in,” says Julie Burrell, Regional Partner Lead of The Right Place, The Right Place is a regional nonprofit founded in 1985 with the mission to drive sustainable economic growth and shared prosperity in the Greater Grand Rapids region; Newaygo County borders Kent County to the south. 

“White Cloud and Hesperia have seen the least investment for housing in well over a decade, and these units showcase what a difference small incremental increases can make in smaller communities.”

 Hesperia, home to about 1,000 residents, lies in both Newaygo and Oceana counties. About half the village is in Newfield Township, Oceana County, and the other half in Denver Township, Newaygo County. White Cloud is home to nearly 1,500 people and is the county seat of Newaygo County.

The first round of housing grants from the foundation’s Housing Partnership Fund were awarded to three local projects. The $300,000 will enable the recipients to leverage $3 million in total investments. 

The projects are:

JNL Hunt Construction, awarded $60,000, to create two two-bedroom apartments in existing buildings in downtown Hesperia.

Slate Property Co., awarded $90,000, to create three apartments in another existing building in downtown Hesperia.

In White Cloud, Allen Edwin Homes, awarded $150,000, to build up to eight new single-family homes. The homes will be energy-efficient three- and four-bedroom homes. Located in Portage, Allen Edwin Homes is one of the state’s largest builders and constructs homes throughout Michigan and Indiana.

The main street through White Cloud in Newaygo County.“We are excited to partner with Newaygo County on this exciting opportunity to encourage more housing development in our area,” said Shelly Kasprzycki, president and CEO of the Fremont Area Community Foundation. “There is such a need here, and we are committed to working with local partners to find solutions, provide support, and look for ways to leverage additional funding.”

Even small housing projects can have a major impact on a community, according to the Michigan State Housing Development Authority. Successful development can signal opportunities for other developers to start projects.

New housing units can also “loosen up” vacancy chains that can provide places for existing households to move and clear units for new entrants in the market, says Katie Bach, communications director, Partnerships and Engagement Division, for MSHDA. An example, she adds, might be senior housing, which is attractive to older households to move into, freeing up their unit for others.

“The number of new, affordable units in a rural area is generally very small, but their creation could lead to younger folks staying in rural communities longer, as long as good jobs are available nearby,” Bach says. “This applies to all (housing) stock, not just units built through government programs.” 

The Right Place’s Burrell says although a housing strategy has not been completed for Newaygo County, collected data shows the need:

- Newaygo County’s population has increased by 5 percent since 2010, and the growth rate has accelerated threefold since 2020.  (Average growth rate per year 2010 to 2020: 151 people.  2020-2022: 454 people)
- By comparison, the county’s housing units have decreased almost 3 percent since 2010. The data also suggests the county has a gap of 200 to 300 housing units based on the current population. 

 “This does not account for the growth projection,” Burrell says.

The greatest need for housing is among families earning between 60 percent to 120 percent of the area's median income. Currently, that income level is defined as $45,420 to $90,840 for a four-person household.

What’s prompting this demand for housing in towns that had been languishing?
“During and since COVID specifically, we’ve seen more people be attracted to living in places they can be close to nature, outdoor recreation and away from stresses of urban life,” Burrell says.

“As a neighbor to the urban Grand Rapids market, we are commutable and this seems to be a driver of the population growth. Additionally, in the past five years alone, companies in Newaygo County have added over 190 jobs — and this does not take into account retail additions like Meijer opening its first Newaygo County location in 2019.”

The housing grants were made possible through a partnership between the Community Foundation and Newaygo County. County commissioners approved $1 million to help create the Newaygo County Housing Partnership Fund at the Community Foundation. The Community Foundation’s Board of Trustees earmarked an additional $500,000. 

A committee including county officials, Community Foundation staff, and community representatives, such as Burrell, was formed to create grantmaking guidelines and review proposals. 

Another round of housing grants

The second round of housing grants will be open for applications on November 15, with proposals due on January 5. Nonprofit and for-profit developers are eligible to apply. Applicants are encouraged to leverage additional funding sources and seek the support of local municipalities. Housing developments must be located in Newaygo County to be eligible.

“We are hopeful that the next round will garner as much or more interest,” Burrell says. “ Additionally, we hope to release our housing strategy in 2024.”

Earlier this fall, the Fremont Area Community Foundation received $50,000 from the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development to complete a comprehensive multi-community individualized growth assessment that informs customized community plans.

Administered through the Office of Rural Development, grants amounting to $1 million were given to 21 recipients to help expedite housing production, improve infrastructure and bolster rural economies. 

"These grants represent a critical step forward in addressing the significant housing, infrastructure, and other challenges facing our rural communities,” MDARD Director Tim Boring said in a news release at the time.

For more information

The Newaygo County Economic Development Partnership, powered by The Right Place, is an advisory board under the Newaygo County Board of Commissioners and is responsible for oversight and leadership of economic development in Newaygo County.

For more information on the application process, contact Maria E. Gonzalez or Lindsay Hager at the Community Foundation at 231-924-5350.

Rosemary Parker has worked as a writer and editor for more than 40 years. She is a regular contributor to Rural Innovation Exchange and other Issue Media Group publications. 
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