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Grand Rapids creates new fund for affordable housing

Grand Rapids City Hall and La Grande Vitesse.
Dustin Dwyer
Michigan Radio
Grand Rapids City Hall

City commissioners in Grand Rapids have followed through on an affordable housing recommendation six years in the making.

On Tuesday commissioners voted to create a new affordable housing fund for the city. That follows a recommendation made in 2015 to address rising housing costs in Grand Rapids.

“I’m extremely happy that this is before us today,” Mayor Rosalynn Bliss said at the meeting where the fund was approved Tuesday. “I know we’ve been talking about it for several years now. “

The plan calls for a goal of $25 million in the fund by 2025. It will start with less than $1 million.

Commissioner Senita Lenear said she wanted to see more effort to grow the fund to meet the need for affordable housing in the city.

“I’m just concerned as I’m looking at kind of what’s been approved for 2019 and 2020, and what’s anticipated for 2021 that that really isn’t significant enough,” Lenear said.

The city’s plan calls for various strategies to grow the fund over the next four years, from philanthropy to sales of public land. The city also expects to use $5 million in funding from the federal American Rescue Plan.

Money in the fund could be used to help finance affordable housing projects and help cover the costs of home repairs for low-income residents. It could also be used to help train and give financial assistance to organizations led by people who are Black, Indigenous, People of Color (BIPOC) or women.

At a commission meeting Tuesday evening, a number of residents told commissioners they need to do more to address housing affordability in Grand Rapids.

Martha Cooper noted commissioners had voted before to fund affordable housing assistance in the city, but that assistance hasn’t been sufficient or consistent.

“What never has happened yet is a concerted effort on the part of the city the county and the state to take care of this problem,” Cooper said.

The city will assign the Grand Rapids Community Foundation as the fiduciary of the new fund, and recommendations on how to prioritize spending of the money will be made by an 11-member board, which is expected to be appointed next month.

Dustin Dwyer reports enterprise and long-form stories from Michigan Public’s West Michigan bureau. He was a fellow in the class of 2018 at the Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard. He’s been with Michigan Public since 2004, when he started as an intern in the newsroom.