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More housing is good, but so much more is needed

• Feb 21, 2017 at 4:00 PM

Holland leaders are heralding a plan that would bring more than 50 apartment units to the city’s downtown.

Holland Mayor Nancy DeBoer even went so far as to describe the location of the project as a "silver platter in the world of affordable housing."

It's an interesting choice of words.

To be clear, we don't dispute that the announced plan for a new three-story, 54-unit apartment building at 254 River Ave. is a good thing. We have opined previously that the city needs to be much more involved in helping to solve a very real and present housing crisis in West Michigan. According to a 2015 Target Market Analysis co-funded by the city, there's a demand for 8,000 new rental units in Holland by 2020.

However, we worry that the city will treat this project just as DeBoer labeled it. A silver platter is defined as: "to allow someone to get something very easily, without having to work for it." How apropos of a council that has repeatedly stated its intention of trying to reduce the number of rentals within the city, and where members have called the rental housing shortage "imagined."

A theme over recent years, in fact, has been council's expressed desire to take the number of rental units from 36 percent to 30 percent of all units. If successful, that aspiration would eliminate about 700 rental units that now exist in the city limits.

And many council members have said, because housing is bigger than Holland's borders, it should either be a concern of surrounding townships or the magnanimous approach of "addressing regionally."

Meanwhile, not one municipality has pushed to bring groups together to solve this crisis. That's despite the fact that yet another report last month — this time via Greater Ottawa County United Way and the Lakeshore Housing Alliance — found Ottawa County's city centers are flirting with having half their populations at or below the A.L.I.C.E. threshold — those who make more than the U.S. poverty level, but less than the basic cost of living.

Zeeland, Holland, Grand Haven, Holland Township and Park Township all have populations between 20 and 50 percent who are asset limited, income constrained and working. In other words, a family of four could earn $53,062, the survival budget for the county, double that of the U.S. poverty designation — $23,050 — and still have trouble affording housing.

And yet, leaders at the Macatawa Area Coordinating Council, the cooperative unit for local governments, say housing hasn't been named as a topic of discussion in 20 years. We'll keep holding our breath.

It's in direct contradiction to what residents are saying: A Holland citizen survey conducted this past fall found that those who have high interest in living in Holland need more rentals — at lower prices and in attached units.

That certainly would be found in this new downtown development from General Capital Group, which said 11 units would be made for tenants who earn less than 30 percent of the area median income, eight units for those who earn 50 percent less and 35 for those who earn less than 60 percent.

Perhaps it is a "silver platter," but it certainly isn't a "silver bullet." It's a step in the right direction, and if leaders are really serious about figuring out how to fix this housing crisis, they most certainly will have to work for it.


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