Grand Rapids addresses the need for housing rehabilitation

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Capital News Service

LANSING — Grand Rapids has long been recognized for its well-maintained, historic homes. 

The urban neighborhoods of the city’s east side offer classic style homes with modern renovations that attract potential homebuyers and keep the area vibrant, says Tatyana Ford, a financial assistant at the Grand Rapids Community Development Department.

Less affluent inner city neighborhoods, however,  have not maintained such appeal, says Ford.

According to Ford, a push to create new developments farther from the city center has left the older homes to deteriorate and lose value.

Dan Gilmartin, the executive director and CEO of the Michigan Municipal League, said that  trend leaves behind older cities across the state.

In many cities, such as Grand Rapids and those nearby, “we haven’t had growth —

we’ve had development,” Gilmartin said. 

People are moving from metropolitan areas, and “older infrastructure is being left behind,” Gilmartin said. 

According to Gilmartin, the best way to slow that trend is to rebuild existing infrastructure before building new.

In Grand Rapids and elsewhere Kent County, rebuilding the existing infrastructure is not only a matter of revitalizing the community, but also essential for the health and safety of current and future residents, according to Rep. Rachel Hood, D-Grand Rapids.

Many older homes in neglected neighborhoods don’t meet current safety standards, and the effects are dangerous, Hood said.

“We continue to see about 400 kids a year lead poisoned in Grand Rapids and Kent County,” Rep. Hood said. “Seventy-five percent of kids in Kent County who are lead-poisoned are exposed to lead through lead paint dust or lead paint chips.”

More often than not, children are exposed to lead in their home.

According to Hood, lead poisoning is preventable when the right actions are taken, so lead abatement should be a major factor in addressing “neglected infrastructure” starting with older housing, says Hood.

To revitalize forgotten neighborhoods, the Grand Rapids Community Development Department, has created programs to address those problems.

The Housing Rehabilitation Program and the Lead Hazards Control Program are two ways the city is working to revamp older neighborhoods by making them safer, Ford said.

Since the start of fiscal year 2021 last July 1, a total of $600,048 has been spent on community development projects. The Housing Rehabilitation Program accounted for $300,701, while $144,847 was spent on the Lead Hazards Control Program. 

According to Steve Guitar, the city’s media relations manager, “Funding for the Housing Rehabilitation and Lead Hazards Control programs includes allocations for administering the programs, as well as outreach, contractor training and other non-project costs.” 

Families living in homes that need refurbishing can apply for project loans through the Community Development Department if they meet the criteria.

“There are initially two requirements,” Ford said. “You have to have been a resident of Grand Rapids for at least 12 months and you have to meet income requirements.”

Since the program strives to provide loans for those who are unlikely to get approved through other means, the income requirements are 30% to 80% of the area median income based on the number of household members.

For example, that income limit is $64,150 for a family of four.

Once a household is approved for the Housing Rehabilitation Program, specialists visit the home and calculate the cost for the necessary renovations. 

“We finance up to $24,000 per year for house rehabilitation,” Ford said. “The actual loan is interest-free, and people will make payment from $50 to $100 a month.”

“The loan amount and monthly payments are far more affordable than options outside the program would be,” she said.

According to Ford, the Lead Hazards Control Program offers grants up to $20,000 for families in homes built before 1978 with a child under 6. The grant is used for lead abatement and repainting, as well as addressing other areas of the home that may contain lead.

“Lead can be in the window frames,” Ford said. “Sometimes lead is in the siding of the house or the siding of the garage as well.” 

The grants funds these types of renovations as well. 

The programs aren’t mutually exclusive if an applicant meets all the requirements.

“In many cases, families apply for both simultaneously,” Ford said. This gives families the ability to address structural problems and safety concerns at the same time, which boosts the area economically.

Having higher quality housing makes a place more desirable for potential buyers.

According to Ford, “If you are able to fix your house, the price for that area will be higher.” 

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