Revitalization at Belknap Lookout in GR aims to stop displacement 

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A group of developers are repurposing existing historical buildings and turning them into affordable housing. The Union Suites on Coit project is part of a growing movement to provide options to families that are income restricted. 

The Belknap Lookout neighborhood borders Medical Mile and Leonard Street in between Grand River and College Avenue.

Nick Lovelace and Tom Ralston, in partnership with nonprofit housing organization Dwelling Place are redeveloping the 52 affordable apartments in the city’s Belknap Lookout neighborhood.

“Union Suites on Coit will help the community by allowing families and individuals who live in Belknap to remain in Belknap affordably and welcome new residents who want affordable housing,” said Ralston. 

Project rendering for affordable housing project Credit: Tommy Ralston

The site plans call for the demolition of the previous rental properties to make way for three-story apartment buildings that will contain a mix of one-, two- and three-bedroom units. The apartments will range in price. Households that qualify for low income housing can apply through a voucher program.

“It’s important to me because it’s the first and largest affordable new construction project for Union Suites. The project has been an uphill battle getting the appropriate environmental clearances and financing however we have found success as we remain committed to bringing new affordable apartments to Belknap,” said Lovelace.

What risks are there in creating affordable housing?

“Risks are the rising construction costs and delays in construction that impact our financing terms with the financing partners. The rewards are expanding our affordable housing portfolio but more importantly doubling the amount of affordable housing in the Belknap neighborhood,” said Ralston.

Bar graph showing housing costs higher than the average wage in Michigan Credit: Sarah Marilyn

According to the Colliers 2021 Economic Forecast Event, the revitalization and resurgence of the Grand Rapids downtown corridor is making finding affordable housing more difficult, as housing prices are increasing faster than income.

Kara Gates, a local resident in the Belknap neighborhood, knows the struggles in finding affordable housing. 

“Our neighborhood should be an inclusive place for all and this project ensures that Belknap will have affordable housing into the foreseeable future,” said Gates. 

A home located on Fairview Ave in the Belknap Bluff neighborhood Credit: Sarah Marilyn

Meanwhile groups like ICCF, Dwelling Place and Genesis are some of the organizations that are creating new affordable housing options for Income Restricted Families, while local governments and charities are trying to address the problem. For Instance the Homebuyer Assistance Fund program offers up to $7,500 for low- and moderate-income homebuyers. Buyers can use the money for down payment, closing costs, and prepaid expenses.

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