By Ryan Kilpatrick, Director of Housing Next

Be sure to read the first part, Lack of Affordable Housing – Part 1, The Issue.

In my previous post, I outlined why the work we’re doing is necessary. Now I’d like to outline what we’re doing about it. Housing Next is taking a three-pronged approach with a focus on market-based solutions across the region.

Increase supply at all price points

We will work to advocate for increased supply of housing across the spectrum of price points. While the top priority for Housing Next will be to increase the availability of housing for our workforce earning less than $50,000 per year, we will be champions and advocates for all new housing supply in the regional market that is planned in accordance with community priorities and sited close to community services and amenities.

As an example, more than 20% of the Ottawa County population is between the ages of 55 and 79. More than 15% of households are over the age of 65. This equates to 11,000 single family homes in Ottawa County that are occupied by adults in retirement age with no children, and that number could nearly double over the next decade.

There is significant market evidence to show that many baby-boomers (though not all) are seeking out more walkable neighborhoods with smaller home sizes and limited maintenance requirements. However, there is not enough high-quality housing stock in walkable neighborhoods in Ottawa County to satisfy those trends for retirees who are looking to downsize. As a result, many retirees are staying in homes that are too large for their needs and require more maintenance than is desired.

By providing more housing options for baby-boomers looking to retire into smaller homes within walking distance to neighborhood amenities, those older and larger single-family homes then become available for young families with children, creating a positive cascade effect down the housing market and increasing the overall availability of homes for sale.

Provide support for workforce housing

Housing Next will focus on providing direct support for more affordable workforce housing. This will happen in a number of ways:

›› We will be working with each community across the region to find ways to offer creative solutions for providing more housing without putting undue strain on existing infrastructure. This is likely to include creative financing mechanisms, innovative design practices, greater flexibility in local regulatory requirements, and a push for economic efficiencies in construction costs, while ensuring a continuation of the high-quality community character that is prevalent across the region.

›› Housing Next will also be working directly with developers to support new infill projects in close proximity to regional employers and neighborhood services. A secondary objective to housing affordability will be to create more market choices for mobility across the region. In other words, new development will be focused in areas where public transportation or private ride-sharing services are readily available and convenient to use so that each family can make their own choices about whether to own multiple vehicles or scale back to a single car household and save on transportation costs.

Strengthen partnerships

Finally, Housing Next will be establishing partnerships with existing non-profits, community groups, and church organizations to support families in need of housing. West Michigan has an incredible network of organizations who are already doing impressive work to support families and workers across the region. We will be working to find every means possible to increase the capacity of existing organizations, forge new partnerships across the region, and leverage the talent and inspiration of all those who are willing to dedicate some time, talent or funding for these efforts.

We will also work alongside our economic development partners to support businesses large and small by creating a business-friendly environment that encourages wage increases commensurate with the increase in the cost of living.

There is big work ahead and none of it can be accomplished without the support of the community at large. We are looking forward to providing continuous updates and we will certainly be offering opportunities for everyone to play a role in supporting this most important effort.

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