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Director to focus on economics of housing affordability in county

By Sydney Smith/The Holland Sentinel • Jan 2, 2018 at 3:00 PM

Ryan Kilpatrick is going to do the math so you don’t have to.

Kilpatrick begins his position with Ottawa Housing Next on Jan. 15 as the director of the Housing Next Leadership Council. The council was formed by Ottawa Housing Next to address affordable housing issues countywide.

He’s been hired to facilitate affordable housing initiatives and will be paid a $95,000 salary to do so. Kilpatrick, currently a community assistance team specialist with the Michigan Economic Development Corp., has experience in economic development and city planning, and will focus on economics and “doing the math” to assist in finding solutions and root causes of documented affordable housing issues in the county.

What made you want to take the director position?

“When I first took the (current) job, we were just coming out of the Recession. We were trying to encourage market rate apartments to push the local market and make the numbers work for developers with as little state assistance as possible.

“What we saw, mostly as a result of where the market was, those downtown urban walkable environments became really in demand. The developments we incentivized, their rent per unit shot up. It was an unintended consequence. For the last couple of years, we’ve been trying to think of how we make these projects work financially from the developer perspective, and how we advance the needs of the local community.

“The other important factor that sparked my interest was the leadership council. Between Lakeshore Advantage and the community foundation, as well as the chambers of commerce and S.P.O.K.E., it was an extraordinarily thoughtful group who is interested in the complete systems perspective and having a long-term vision, as opposed to how do we just build a bunch of cheap housing.”

What do you know about affordable housing issues in the area?

“I think the big number is the fact is the number of families in the county that are shelter overburdened, paying more than 30-35 percent of annual income on housing. The other important factors to keep in mind are they are not only shelter overburdened, but tend to be transportation overburdened and child-care overburdened.

“When you look at their annual income and what they’re spending on housing, it could be 40-50 percent of their annual income, but then they’ve got another 10-15 percent on child care or maintaining a car. You add another 30 percent on the 50 percent, that leaves very little for food and utilities.

“How do we alleviate that situation from multiple angles, instead of just focusing on housing? We’re going to focus on transportation options, creating stronger sense of place — more services located close to housing.”

What will your duties be?

“Primarily I’m going to be working on helping make projects happen. There is not only a significant overburden of cost, but there is also a lack of supply. Those two things are connected.

“Advocacy with state and federal partners, working with nonprofits, doing probably some lobbying to figure out how we make tools that are available work better. It’s going to be a lot of community outreach.

“And I’ll be going to local governments and saying, ‘We see opportunities at the local level within your municipality to make some moderate changes’ that will allow the community to preserve its local character and increase its economic tax base.

“Providing for more choice within the marketplace, I think, is critical. So, the question is, how do we work with local municipalities to think through what the alternative choices we can allow for under planning and zoning laws that makes sense for that community?”

What are potential impacts workers who are commuting into the county because of a lack of available/affordable housing?

“When they’re coming in from outside of the county, they may be driving 20-30 minutes, and they may be driving past five other job opportunities. People are putting signs out in front of their businesses advertising wages. You drive past one of those signs five days a week, twice a day, and you start to do the math.

“You think, ‘Maybe it makes more sense to work somewhere 20 minutes closer.’ That’s a burden on our employers. Then that gets in to are (employer) capable of growing, continuing economic output? Wages are an issue. We’ve got to focus on both the things within our direct control and the things that are not.”

What is the incentive(s) for local governments to make them want to contribute to solutions?

“It’s all economic. We’ve got probably one of the best retail districts in the state of Michigan. People are traveling in from outside of county/Holland area. From an employer’s perspective, that gets a little dicey.

“If my employees are itching to get out the door to beat rush hour, they’re far less likely to spend money here. Employees bring in economic potential, and that economic potential is lost and leaking out into other communities.

“It’s from an employer’s perspective — how do you keep your employees happy? A lot of that is just about quality of life. If you’re commuting an hour every day, that starts to get old. If you’re not super thrilled about who you’re working for, you’ll be looking at opportunities to work somewhere else. The incentive for municipalities is to think about the long-term benefits.”

What’s an example of a way municipalities can help?

“The first way that I really want to call on our municipalities is to establish a vision — evaluate their master plans and think about where innovative projects might make sense. Let’s help to direct the narrative and create an open playbook for developers to make projects work.

“The opportunity Holland has with its city-owned parcels is they can negotiate the sale of those properties based on what they want to see. They’re in a strong position to reduce the total cost of the land if (a developer is) willing to provide a certain percentage of affordable units.

“But also to take a deep dive and do the math — if their vision is financially viable and that they’re communicating that vision in a way that makes sense to a developer. Housing Next is going to be here to help do the math.”

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