Housing NOW!

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Affordable housing is a huge priority for us. We're reframing our outlook on affordable housing as affordable living. We believe that everyone should have the opportunity to live in healthy and safe housing.

We've partnered with residents and housing developers to recommend progressive housing solutions. Our goal is to create housing choices and opportunities for all. Open the panels below to learn more about how we got here and what we're recommending.

We're discussing these recommendations at the upcoming City Commission meetings. Check out the Upcoming Meetings box for meeting details. 

Great Housing Strategies 
We've been discussing and studying affordable housing since 2015. This began with the Great Housing Strategies, a community planning initiative consisting of 3 City Commissioners and over 200 residents. This group represents the following:
  • Non-profit and for-profit housing developers
  • Lenders
  • Neighbors
  • Educational institutions
  • Local philanthropy
  • Government officials

Participants gathered to recommend goals and actions for equitable housing needs.The primary concern was the lack of affordable housing. The group found this was due to increased rent and new developments displacing neighbors.

Residents formed work groups and presented their strategies to City Commission. The City Commission adopted the recommended 8 goals and 35 actions in December, 2015.

 

Housing NOW! has roots in the recommendations posed by the Great Housing Strategies initiative in 2015. Great Housing Strategies categorized recommendations into:
  • Land use and zoning
  • Housing finance
  • Economic and workforce development
  • Low-income and vulnerable populations
Housing Advisory Committee
Mayor Bliss appointed the Housing Advisory Committee in 2016 to implement the Great Housing Strategies recommendations. Mayor Bliss set the Committee's goals to provide recommendations for:
  • Funding to grow an Affordable Housing Fund
  • Ways to allocate funding for significant impact where affordable housing is needed
  • Housing policies for better outcomes
  • Prioritize the Great Housing Strategies goal implementation
  • Changes to State and Federal policy for positive impact on Grand Rapids housing

Commissioner Jon O'Connor chaired the Committee. They met 7 times between October 27, 2016 to May 1, 2017. 

Currently, property owners pay a standard annual 4% service charge for the life of their mortgage. We're proposing an ordinance to add a lower cost option. We propose the option to pay a 1% annual service charge. If a property owner chooses this option, they would also be required to pay the equivalent of a 2% service charge annually. The money collected from this would go to the City's Affordable Housing Fund. 

This would lower costs for eligible property costs while putting funds back into affordable housing incentives and initiatives.

We also recommend clarifying the ordinance about net shelter rent calculations. Only rent restricted units within a development that's actually occupied by low-income tenants should calculate net shelter rent. 

Check out the recommendation and proposed ordinance here.

To facilitate affordable housing, we're proposing to provide incentives for homeownership. The outcomes we hope to see with this recommendation are:

  • Increased home ownership rates and housing choice
  • Increased personal wealth over time 
  • Reduced number of vacant homes in neighborhoods

Access to down payment assistance is crucial. We want to expand these resources for low- and moderate-income future homeowners.

We already have a Homebuyer Assistance Fund (HAF) loan program. This provides up to $5,000 of down payment and closing cost assistance. Households with incomes at or below 80% of the area median income are eligible. Currently, homes must be purchased within the Community Development General Target Area (GTA). We recommend updating the policy with the following changes:

  • Realign the policy's purpose. Change to increase homeownership opportunities and promote housing choice instead of simply providing financial assistance to eligible homebuyers 
  • Remove the GTA requirement. Allow homeowners to apply HAF funds to a home they buy anywhere in the city
  • Clarify the residential zoning requirement to include mixed-use structures
  • Clarify the occupancy status toallow an existing tenant to purchase the home
  • Remove the term first-time homebuyer to more accurately describe eligible applicants as anyone who hasn't owned a home within the last three years
  • Increase the maximum loan amount from $5,000 to $7,500
  • Increase household assets from $5,000 to $10,000
  • Remove places where the policy references federal program requirements so other funding sources, such as the Affordable Housing Fund, can be used for the HAFprogram

Check out our draft HAF policy amendment here.

Check out the official recommendation sent to the City Manager here.

We're continuing the discussion at City Commission meetings. Check out the documents we're developing:

Small scale development is referred to as "missing middle" housing. These are duplexes, fourplexes, bungalow courts and mansion apartments smaller than a large house. These housing types are crucial to expand affordable housing options. To reduce barriers to this type of development, we recommend changes to the development approval process. We'd like to see changes to the standards for development site layout and building placement.

We've discussed this with developers and have come up with four proposed changes to the zoning ordinance:

  • Reduce the minimum dwelling unit width from 18 feet to 14 feet
  • Allow developers to build two-family residential units by-right in the LDR zone district. Eligible properties should be located on a corner parcel or within 100 feet from a TBA, TOD, TCC or C zone district. The two-family lot width and area requirements should be the same as the single family units
  • Remove the minimum lot area requirement for multi-family residential developments. Currently this is 20,000 square feet
  • Allow developers to build multi-family residential units by-right in the LDR zone district. These developments are only eligible if the property is located within 100 feet of a TBA, TOD, TCC or C zone district. They shouldn't have more than 4 units per building. To qualify these need to comply with form, maximum building width and footprint standards

We recommend creating a Design Guidelines Manual to preserve the existing neighborhood character. These would also become City ordinances. We anticipate this will create more form-based architectural requirements.

We've discussed this with neighborhoods and heard that current standards don't protect neighborhood character. This includes lack-luster front stoops, flat facades and incompatible design. The Design Guidelines Manual will help address these concerns. 

Before adopting the proposed amendments, the City should consider:

  • Will this change affect the neighborhood's character?
  • Will this change affect the City's image in general?
  • We could lose single-family dwellings in favor of new mutli-family developments
  • Single-family housing could convert to higher density residential structures
  • These changes wont' directly increase the number of affordable housing units. It could create conditions that support increased housing supply
  • Can the City enforce more people living here? (In terms of front yard parking, overcrowding, etc.)

Check out our draft policy here.

Want to see what the proposed buffer zones around TBA districts could look like? Check out our maps here.

We designate Neighborhood Enterprise Zones (NEZ) as areas to revitalize a neighborhood. We provide tax incentives for new construction or major repairs to rental apartments in NEZs. These are NEZ certificates or exemptions. The intent is to improve housing in distressed urban areas. We've found this hasn't been working as intended. The incentive doesn't encourage developers to make modifications that meet the City Investment Criteria. We recommend updating these criteria to focus on affordable housing. We suggest removing items that apply to most projects by default, including Type B accessible units.

We've also found that the standard 12 year NEZ exemption doesn't provide enough incentive to meet the City Investment Criteria.  We talked with investment bankers and developers about the NEZ policy. They suggested shortening the base NEZ certificate to 9 years. They feel that this will still bring value to a project without creating barriers to funding. We recommend updating the NEZ policy to reduce the number of years to a minimum of 9 years and maximum 15 years. 

Check out our proposed ordinance here.

We're committed to working with investors and community organizations to listen to and respond to the community's needs. This is key to growing the city based on what Grand Rapidians want. We recommend the Voluntary Equitable Development Agreements (VEDA) policy. VEDA provides opportunities for an investor and a community based organization to commit to goals and joint interests with the City. VEDA would lay out the joint commitments of each party. This includes property development standards and conditions.

Check out our official recommendation and draft VEDA policy here

The current residential density bonuses are incentives available to mixed-income housing projects. Currently these bonuses can't be applied to more traditional affordable housing projects, such as Low Income Housing Tax Credits (LIHTC) projects. This is because the percentage requirement for mixed-income housing bonuses conflicts with the requirements for LIHTC. Our proposed amendment would provide an additional bonus.This bonus could be used as an incentive for a traditional affordable housing project and it'd be available for LIHTC funded projects.

We met with housing providers about changing the ordinance. Based on our discussion, we recommend adding an Affordable Housing Bonus. Development projects would would be eligible for the Affordable Housing Bonus if they:

  • Are located within 300 feet of a transit line
  • Create at lease 20 units
  • Rental units: at least 30% of units are at or below 60% AMI
  • Owner units: at least 30% of units are at or below 80% AMI

Check out our recommendation and the proposed policy here.

We're interested in taking a market-based approach to increasing housing availability. The Housing Advisory Committee recommends the City buy or otherwise acquire property for affordable housing. We want to accomplish this through our proposed Property Acquisition and Management Policy. This policy would allow these acquisitions and set investment strategies to maintain neighborhood character.

Check out the proposed policy here.

Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs) are residential spaces added to a primary residence. The current policy on ADUs is restrictive so we propose to change it. We heard from residents at input sessions and researched other cities' policies.

Here are our recommended changes:

  • Allow ADUs by-right in all zone districts
  • Remove the lot area requirement
  • Increase accessory building heights where an ADU is proposed
  • Increase the floor ratio from 25% to 40% of the primary structure
  • Remove the maximum number of bedrooms and maximum number of occupants. Except that no more than 4 unrelated individuals can live in a single dwelling

Check out our recommendation here.

Non-Condo Zero Lot Line Units are also known as attached single-family residential dwelling units. These are housing units attached to each other in a row.

Currently the Zoning Ordinance allows this type of development as either:

We consulted with neighbors, housing developers and architects about creating a policy amendment. Neighborhood association representatives voiced concerns about over-parking and the lack of code compliance enforcement resources. After digesting all the feedback, we're proposing to change the policy to:

  • Allow attached single-family units in the LDR zone district if they have less than 4 attached units per structure and are located within 100 feet of a TBATOD, TCC, or C zone district. This should be measured from the closest point of the parcels on the public right-of-way
  • Reduce the minimum dwelling unit width from 18 to 14 feet
  • Remove the requirement for minimum lot width
  • Reduce the minimum lot area from 3,000 square feet to 1,500 square feet in LDR
  • Reduce the minimum lot area from 2,250 square feet to 1,250 square feet in MDR

Check out our proposed policy amendment here.

Rental applications are specific to the landlord's conditions. This means there's nothing in place to protect renters across all rental applications in Grand Rapids. Many times landlords reject applications with no reasoning and do not return application fees. We're proposing a new policy to standardize rental applications. This will include the following:

  • The landlord must provide the criteria they use to judge rental applications
  • Application fees must not exceed the costs for the landlord to screen applicants
  • If an applicant is asked for excessive application fees, they can call either Community Development or 311. Excessive fees go beyond the out of pocket costs for landlords to pay for criminal background and credit history reports
  • If an applicant pays an application fee and is denied, the landlord must write them the reasons for rejection. They must also let the applicant know which screening agencies were used. They must provide this documentation within 14 days
  • If an applicant is rejected for a reason not listed in the landlord's criteria, the landlord must refund the applicant with the application fee
  • The applicant chooses how they'd like the application fee returned (mail, destroyed check if not cashed, held for pickup)
  • A landlord can hold an application for up to 60 days. They must not cash or deposit the applicant's application fee.This provides time to screen prior applications. If a prior applicant is screened and accepts the unit during this time, the landlord must return the application fee to the other applicant(s)
  • Landlords who violate this policy face a municipal civil infraction

Check out our proposed draft policy here.

Our goal is to have a citywide housing inventory mix of 70% market rate and 30% affordable housing. This should include a mix of homeownership and rental opportunities that accommodate various household sizes, abilities and needs.

We want to address the income gaps and long-term equity issues in the city. To do this, we propose establishing an Affordable Housing Fund. We'd partner with an entity capable of creating and managing a fund. The Affordable Housing Fund would invest in creating and preserving affordable housing units - both owned and rented. We recommend appointing an Affordable Housing Fund board to do the following:

  • Provide recommendations for policy changes to support affordable housing programs
  • Allocate funding within the City  Commission's priorities to applicants
  • Manage the application, allocation and reporting processes for Affordable Housing Fund monies

Check out the proposed policy here.