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Hearings spur talk of larger Grand Rapids housing, affordability issues

Downtown Grand Rapids
Rachel Kramer | CC BY 2.0

Recent public hearings on city of Grand Rapids development spur a larger discussion on gentrification and housing. 

"We have to live in more than just redevelopment."

Last Tuesday's hearings dealt with two items – a Neighborhood Enterprise Zone designation, or NEZ, and amendments to the city’s SmartZone plan and mapping boundaries.

The first was filed by developers of 1515 Wealthy Street SE – a mixed-use building to include 12 market-rate apartments and first-floor commercial space.

The term 'market-rate' brought multiple speakers to the microphone, including Sam Jones Darling – a local student active in millennial issues, including housing.

"I’d imagine the developer’s low-end pitch of about $800 probably applies to that studio [apartment in the development]," Darling says. "Who’s he [the developer] expecting to fill that studio, in that neighborhood?"

A handful of stakeholders and residents spoke in favor of the NEZ designation, including one man who says he’s grateful for a successful project he lives in. But he’s skeptical of accountability controls in place for past projects to ensure work was done correctly.

NEZs are one tool in a toolbox of tax incentives projects and cities can use for development. The concerns seemed to come not from the project itself, but larger issues of affordability.

Barb Hickadee is a local resident.

"I think we need to really, really – as a community, as you folks, as the commissions – pay far more attention to not the neighbors of these projects, in these projects, who are taking risks," she says. "Look around the neighborhood. Look at people like me."

Hickadee asks officials to take a look at those costs – not just financial – that redevelopment projects are having on residents already in the area.

Hilary is a General Assignment and Enterprise reporter for WGVU Public Media. She joined WGVU in September 2014 after several years of experience as a local news reporter, anchor and photojournalist in Midland, Saginaw and Bay counties. She's also worked as a financial and business reporter and audio field producer.
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