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3 Questions for ICCF since they acquired 177 homes in recent deal worth $14.5 million

December 13, 2017

In March, we reported on the corporatization of rental housing in Grand Rapids, based on a study we did in part of the southeast area of the city. We found that the private equity firm known as RDG Fund-5 LTH LLC, owned the most rental units in the Garfield Park area.

Then in May of this year, Michigan Radio came out with a documentary called Pushed Out, which also looks at how private equity companies and larger property management companies began buying hundreds of properties after the 2007/2008 economic crash. The Michigan radio documentary made the point that the corporatization of rental properties is one of the major contributing factors to the increased cost of rent.

A few months ago it was announced that the Inner City Christian Federation (ICCF) was in the process of buying all the homes that RDG Fund own in Grand Rapids and Lansing, a total of 177 homes. Last week, MLive reported that the deal has been finalized between ICCF and RDG Fund, totaling $14.5 million. After reading the MLive article, I have several questions for ICCF about the deal.

First, ICCF lists several “affordable housing agencies,” including LINC, the Kent County Land Bank, Habitat for Humanity and AmplifyGR. When did AmplifyGR become an affordable housing agency? AmplifyGR has no history of promoting or offering affordable housing, so why are they listed as an affordable housing agency? AmplifyGR has only existed for about 1 year and already has been questioned by many in the community on their intentions around development issues and transparency in the Boston Square and Cottage Grove neighborhoods. 

Second, the MLive article lists several area foundations as contributing to the cost of the purchase of the RDG Fund properties – The Barnabas Foundation, CDV5 Foundation, Peter C. and Emajean Cook Foundation, Dick and Betsy DeVos Family Foundation, Doug and Maria DeVos Foundation, Frey Foundation, National Christian Foundation West Michigan, David and Carol Van Andel Foundation, Jandernoa Foundation and the Wege Foundation.

Most, if not all, of these foundations were founded by members of the capitalist class and many of them, especially the DeVos, Van Andel and Jandernoa families all have a history of supporting public policies that benefit those with wealth and punish individuals and families who are struggling financially. These families have a history of funding political candidates which are supported policies like Right to Work, attacks on public sector pensions and doing away with minimum wage laws. You can see from this chart, that these families have been major contributors and those they contribute to have supported policies that promote austerity measures. (See the Michigan Campaign Finance Network report

One question for ICCF, based on their funding sources for this deal, is how much money did they receive from each foundation and under what criteria did these foundations donate money?

The ICCF director is quoted in the MLive article as saying. “the foundations are investing in the housing market instead of the stock market or bonds, in what VerWys calls program related investment.” A third question would be, what does the ICCF director mean by program related investment? While the city of Grand Rapids is experiencing gentrification in many of the neighborhoods, what does it mean to have the most powerful families contribute to the ICCF deal?

These questions are particularly relevant considering the lack of transparency in the case of the AmplifyGR process, where millions of dollars were spent purchasing properties in two neighborhoods without people from those neighborhoods even being aware this was happening.

These questions arise from my own experience of working with those who have experienced homelessness and have been forced out of their neighborhoods because of the impact that gentrification has had. These questions are rooted in the spirit of housing justice, which not only includes the principle that housing is a right, but that the entire community should have a say in what happens with housing and development in this city. I am sharing these questions with ICCF and see if they respond.

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