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Leaders brainstorm affordable housing

By Jordan Climie/The Holland Sentinel • Jun 7, 2017 at 11:00 AM

HOLLAND — Ottawa County has been touting its low unemployment rate for months now, but with more people working — including those who move to the area for job opportunities — comes the inevitable need for affordable housing.

"The vision is that everyone has a place to call home," said Greater Ottawa County United Way President Patrick Moran. "Our goal is to create an ecosystem for affordable housing."

Business, faith and government leaders, along with other like-minded individuals from nonprofits from across the county, gathered at the Baker Lofts on Tuesday as the Ottawa Housing Next group brainstormed the steps needed to continue down a path toward housing for all. It was the most recent meeting in a series of community conversations with groups.

Moran used the term A.L.I.C.E. (Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed) to talk about the individuals and families in focus for Ottawa Housing Next. According to Moran's definition, A.L.I.C.E. earns more than the U.S. poverty level, but less than the basic cost of living for her community. "Your family type matters a lot," he said.

Moran also noted that the county was 15,528 units short of what was needed in terms of affordable housing needs. "We were shocked," he said.

Ottawa Housing Next knows the problem. The solution comes from community leaders coming together, like Tuesday morning, to find a way to pool resources toward a common goal.

"Through these community conversations, we realized everyone has a stake in this," Moran said. "Everyone has to come to the table with solutions. We got together as a steering committee and said, 'We're almost done,' but we're hearing something new — ‘Housing Next is great, but you're not doing enough.'"

With the group asking what more it could do, Moran labeled Housing Next as "Housing Next 1.0," as he sees the work continuing to grow. "Housing Next 2.0 can add capacity and fill the gaps where this is no capacity," he said.

Also next on the agenda is growing Ottawa Housing Next as a whole. This includes creating a nonprofit group funded through five-year commitments, office infrastructure and a location provided by the Greater Ottawa County United Way, using the Ottawa Housing Next work as a foundation moving forward, and hiring a dedicated staff.

Matthew Haworth spoke about his faith bringing him into the fold of Ottawa Housing Next.

"There are things that call to us to do something," he said. "Each of us has to make a personal decision about how we feel about this issue."

Haworth also spoke about how this isn't an Ottawa County-specific issue.

"We have to think regionalism," he said, pointing to how housing problems in Grand Haven and Holland/Zeeland affect Muskegon and Allegan counties, respectively.

"It's easy to be against something, harder to be for it," he said. "Are you willing to be an advocate?"

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