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Rockford Construction and the Politics of Displacement

October 25, 2016

The current housing crisis is happening all across the globe, throughout the United States and particularly in Grand Rapids.screen-shot-2016-10-24-at-1-55-36-pm

People are faced with rising rental costs, a sky rocketing of the price tag for homes to buy, an increase in evictions and foreclosures are still a major issue in many cities.

People are feeling the effects if gentrification, which includes increase costs to live in a specific area, along with various forms of displacement. People are being displaced from their place of residence in two major ways. First, people are being displaced because of the cost of property taxes or the cost of rent has increased significantly in recent years and they can no longer afford it. People should not be paying more than 30% of their income on housing, yet the reality is that more and more people are paying 40, even 50% of their income on housing. This is particularly the case within communities of color, since those communities are experiencing higher rates of gentrification and because on average they make less than White people do in this society.

The second major factor in housing displacement is the physical destruction, the demolition of housing. In many cases, as gentrification spreads throughout neighborhoods, demolition of housing either precedes new development projects or follows development projects.screen-shot-2016-10-24-at-1-54-52-pm

A recent example of displacement through demolition occurred just off Michigan St. along Grand Avenue. Roughly 20 homes were demolished to make room for a new development project that will house 287 market rate housing units. People might think that this still results in a housing increase, but what we often fail to recognize is that the new housing will be for more upscale people, while those being displaced are primarily working class individuals and families.

A current example of homes that are slated for being demolished because of a new development project, is on the westside, near all the new construction that is mostly being implemented by Rockford Construction.

Rockford Construction was behind the new brewery on Bridge St, recently finished the new market rate housing project on Alabama Ave. (along with 616 Development) and is in the beginning stages of gentrifying the area along Bridge and Stocking NW.

The new market rate housing project on Alabama Ave. is most directly connected to the 10 houses currently slated for demolition, but all of their projects in that area certainly have a an impact on the 10 houses that will be torn down.

These houses on First St, Second St and Alabama Ave are all older housing stocking that has been home to working class families for decades. According to the Grand Rapids Planning Commission documents from October 13, there are no immediate plans for redevelopment of the 11 lots (10 house and one vacant lot), but there was lots of discussion about it and upscale housing appears to be imminent. One good guess is that those 11 lots may eventually be used for parking, since the new market rate housing that is on Alabama has limited parking available, although the documents showed that they were considering it to be green space. However, there was no clarity as to whether or not the existing trees would remain or not.

Rockford Construction began buying these houses in 2013 and the last year that any of those houses were certified as rental was in 2014.

The Grand Rapids Planning Commission documents also reveal that the John Ball Area Neighbors sent a letter stating they would not oppose the demolition of these 10 houses.screen-shot-2016-10-24-at-2-50-08-pm

Planning Commission staff Suzanne Schulz, “mentioned the properties were optioned long before Rockford became involved and they have fallen into disrepair over the years,” according to the Planning Commission document from October 13. Such a statement dismisses the reality that landlords often will purposefully allow property to fall into disrepair because they can then pocket more of the money they collect from rent.

Kurt Hassberger, Rockford Construction and Development, “noted that the properties were somewhat orphaned by the two expressways and separated from the neighborhood that it used to be a part of.” While this may be the case, it completely ignores how the highways built in Grand Rapids were a major cause of gentrification and displacement. 

In the Planning Commission documents there was also some discussion about the larger impact on the neighborhood, but in the end the Planning Commission voted unanimously to approve the demolition of 10 more houses on the westside by Rockford Construction.

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