Grand Rapids leaders eye vacant properties to boost low-income housing stock

GRAND RAPIDS, MI — Grand Rapids leaders are hoping to increase the city’s affordable and low-income housing stock with vacant properties.

a room with people sitting at a table: Under a new program, Grand Rapids is making vacant properties available for sale to some area nonprofits that would build low-income housing on them.

© Cory Morse | Morse |
Under a new program, Grand Rapids is making vacant properties available for sale to some area nonprofits that would build low-income housing on them.

At their Tuesday night meeting, city commissioners unanimously approved vacant property sale criteria that favors lower-income housing projects on the properties.


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Under the approved sale guidelines, the city’s stock of about 67 vacant properties are available for sale through the State Land Bank Authority to a handful of area nonprofits if the organizations can do one or more of the following:

Rehabilitate the property for 80% area median income homeownership;

Rehabilitate the property for 60% area median income rental;

Place the property into a Community Land Trust; or

Rehabilitate the property for emergency or transitional housing under an organization’s existing program

Nonprofits are required to demonstrate to the city the viability of undertaking any of these options before a property is approved for sale. Any projects outside of these sales parameters need city commission approval.

The city intends to sell these properties to nonprofits on a cost-neutral basis.

The move to bring more affordable and low-income housing into the city comes after city commissioners were briefed last month on a housing needs study that showed the city needs a sizable amount of additional housing to meet demand and avoid displacing residents.

The study, conducted for the city of Grand Rapids by Housing Next, found the city needs 2,892 more rentals and 1,549 more owner-occupied homes between the 0% and 80% area median income range by 2025 to avoid resident displacement and meet demand.

Related: Grand Rapids needs ‘a lot’ of new housing to meet demand, avoid displacing residents

The vacant properties for sale were previously held by the Kent County Land Bank, which was dissolved late last year by county commissioners in a controversial 10-8 vote. Kent County Administrator Wayman Britt recommended commissioners dissolve the land bank after a study of land bank operations, real estate market conditions and adherence to commissioner recommendations.

Britt’s office concluded the county land bank was no longer needed because the housing market had recovered from the Great Recession. Additionally, his office found the county land bank had engaged in “mission creep” beyond what county commissioners recommended by rebranding itself and providing housing, both in and out of the county, through at-cost modular constructions.

Related: ‘Time to move on’: Kent County disbands land bank

Following the dissolution, the city contracted with the State Land Bank to take on the city’s tax-foreclosed properties held by the county, maintain the properties, clear messy property titles and work with the city on property sales, transfers and redevelopment.

The sale guidelines approved Aug. 25 by city commissioners additionally allow Housing Next, a collaborative initiative through United Way of Ottawa County, to evaluate properties and potentially use them for demonstration projects.

“A demonstration project would be one that could be built within the parameters of the existing zoning ordinance and could demonstrate a financial model for either incrementally more dense development or missing-middle housing construction in the city,” Grand Rapids staff wrote.

Any demonstration project will need city commission approval before going forward.

“I am in full support of this agreement,” said Commissioner Kurt Reppart. “My interest is in maximizing this resource that we have … and the way to maximize it right now is to get creative, so I really like the thinking around creating some experimental opportunities for these nonprofits to change the mix without changing the character of the community to meet our goals from the housing needs assessment.”

At the same Tuesday meeting, city commissioners also approved the purchase of seven tax-foreclosed properties from the Kent County treasurer to be added to their State Land Bank inventory.

Five are vacant residential properties and two are commercial lots. The purchase price for all seven totaled $200,458.17. That figure includes unpaid taxes and fines the properties had incurred.

City officials say they are evaluating opportunities on the two commercial properties with area corridor improvement authorities, neighborhood associations and others.

Altogether, the city has about 67 properties with the State Land Bank.

The nonprofits able to purchase vacant property under the agreement are: Habitat for Humanity of Kent County, Inner City Christian Federation, LINC Up, Next Step of West Michigan, Wellhouse, Dwelling Place, New Development Corporation, Genesis Non-profit Housing Corporation and 3:11 Youth Housing.

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