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New Year, Refined Focus / Guest Blog from Housing Next

Ryan KilpatrickHappy New Year! As we begin 2019, Housing Next is now one year old and just a little bit wiser. I am taking this opportunity to share what we've learned so far and to outline our intended course of action over the next year.

One of our first actions - in partnership with the Grand Haven Area Community Foundation, Community Foundation of Holland/Zeeland, and the Greater Ottawa United Way - was to commission a Housing Needs Assessment. This document was assembled by Bowen National Research and provides an in-depth analysis of the current state of the housing market across the County, with specific areas of focus in the Holland/Zeeland, Grand Haven/Spring Lake, and Hudsonville/Jenison markets. The purpose of this report is to be sure that we are working with real-time data pertaining to the availability of housing supply and the multiple layers of demand across the marketplace. As we work to propose solutions to creating more housing supply at more affordable prices, we want to be sure we are grounded in market realities. A link to the draft Housing Needs Assessment Report is available now at the top of our home page.

In addition to this data-gathering effort, the core work of Housing Next in 2018 was three-fold:

First, we spent a lot of time with local municipal officials, city, township and county-level staff, and leaders throughout the community to articulate the nature of the problem as it relates to housing and land use. Each of these conversations was part of the work to support a more equitable and market-based approach to reducing the barriers to housing affordability while simultaneously working to ensure that we have a shared understanding and a shared language about the nature of the problem. We have been working to unpack the standards embedded in our local zoning codes that hinder housing production and exploring methods to adjust those standards for improved outcomes. You'll find an upcoming blog post here that provides much more detail about this effort.

Second, we have been working closely with local and regional developers who have an interest in building more housing in the region. Our work is intended to assist those developments in obtaining local approvals while also pushing for the best design and financial structures to ensure that the project not only adds to the overall supply of housing, but also targets specific price points and meets a level of quality that is rightfully expected across Ottawa County. I expect that as we begin to enter the construction season in 2019, we will be sharing more details about the specific projects under review and when you can expect to see those housing units available in the market place.

Third, we have spent a lot of time working to better define the elements that are missing from the Housing ecosystem across Ottawa County - what types of products are getting built and what types are not? What types of financial, political and social supports are available in our community? And, what needs to be done to fill in the gaps? We now have a pretty good sense of where those gaps are and we have more than a few well-researched ideas about how to fill those gaps. Early in 2019 we will be creating a Housing Advisory Committee and looking for a group of interested advocates, practitioners and experts in their fields to help better refine our approach.

Pursuing this work across Ottawa County has been profoundly rewarding. I have found that nearly everyone I speak with has a big heart for the issue of housing and family stability. The more we talk, the more I think we are finding alignment around how best to improve the economic and regulatory climate to create more housing and to do it in a way that catalyzes economic vitality, spurs private investment and ensures neighborhood stability over the long term. I'm really looking forward to the work ahead and hoping that many of you who may read this post will be willing to work alongside me.

"Go as far as you can see; when you get there, you'll be able to see further." - Thomas Carlyle

Learn more about Housing Next on their website.

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