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Grand Rapids City Commissioners vote unanimously to approve $250,000 – $300,000 Condo Project

April 13, 2016

We recently found out that the Coit Square Project was set for a vote by the Grand Rapids City Commission. The Coit Square Project, along with other developments in the Belknap Lookout area, have come under increased scrutiny due to the gentrification and displacement taking place.

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The Grand Rapids Planning Commission had already unanimously approved the Coit Square Project and now it was up to the City Commission to make a decision. However, there was a planned public hearing for this issue, which was taken off the table and the City Commission was just going to decide on a vote.

The Commission meeting was packed tonight, with standing room only. Shortly after the opening formalities, the City Commission invited people to comment on items on the agenda, one of which was the Coit Square Project.

The Coit Square Project is important, in that it further contributes to gentrification, after the GVSU project had already begun this process.

Several people had already submitted letters to the City Commission on the Coit Square Project. One, in particular, is worth quoting. Chuck Skala, with the Micah Center, wrote these comments to the City Commission.

“The GREAT HOUSING STRATEGIES Plan states, at page 27, that it is a goal of the City of Grand Rapids to “ENCOURAGE MIXED-INCOME NEIGHBORHOODS.”

The Plan document elaborates, moreover, “The importance of mixed-income neighborhoods was identified as a priority throughout the Great Housing Strategies process.  While reinvestment and development are positive, a concentration of either market-rate or rent assisted development may have negative effects on a neighborhood.”  “An intentional balance is necessary for the health and success of all city neighborhoods.” 

We whole heartedly agree!

We very much appreciate the current mixed-income character of the Belknap Lookout neighborhood, and we want to preserve it.  That character is threatened by the Coit Square project that proposes to demolish 22 low-income housing units and replace them with 39 up-scale, market-rate, $250,000 – $300,000 condominiums.

Approval of Coit Square, as it is now contemplated, would potentially contribute to a chain-reaction, domino effect of such developments resulting in, not mixed-income housing, but stratifed-income housing in the extreme.”

Other members of the Micah Center and affordable housing advocates also called on the City to not vote and hold a public hearing, as they believe the process has been flawed and that the developer in question (Angel Gonzalez) is on the board of the neighborhood association, which they believe is a conflict of interest.

Angel Gonzalez, with the Artisean Group did speak before the City Commission, most about how he was a self-made man and was committed to the stability of the neighborhood. Gonzalez did send out a memo about his intentions, but the intentions falls way short of the commitment of the city to have more affordable homes and rental properties in neighborhoods like Belknap. 

The City Commission then voted unanimously to approve the plan to build the $250,000 – $300,000 condos. What was interesting is that almost every commissioner spoke about how the process did take into consideration neighborhood interests, but that there were no easy answers.

So, how does the decision to support such a project fit with the City’s commitment to provide more affordable housing options? What kind of message does it send to people who are experiencing poverty and come from more marginalized communities about how they are valued? These are important questions that need to be addressed, but it didn’t seem as if those questions were being addressed honestly on this night.

Afterwards, I spoke with two teachers from Coit School, who believe that their days are numbered and that the future of Coit School is being threatened by the changing demographics in that neighborhood. One teacher said, “what has been happening to Detroit is the same thing that is happening in Grand Rapids. The city didn’t care about certain neighborhoods for years and now they want to provide all kinds of financial incentives to people to re-develop neighborhoods that are forcing people out.

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