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Hot Zip Codes and the Cold realities of housing costs in Grand Rapids

August 14, 2019

On August 9, WXMI 17, ran a story headlined, Northeast GR named “hottest zip code” in the US.  The story, which is modeled after a Press Release for July 31st, only cites a real estate agent for the story and no residents. 

It seems that anytime Grand Rapids makes the news by being on some list, the local news media jumps on the opportunity to do a story. However, the stories are always superficial and never challenge or critique whatever list that Grand Rapids is now on. Doing fluff stories is always great for advertisers, since it creates what those in the ad business call, “creating a wonderful climate for consumption.” However, journalism could ask real questions and report on a variety of issues that are raised from this WXMI 17 story.

First, it is important to note that the source of the “hottest zip code” story in from Realtor,com, which is run by the National Association of Realtors (NAR). The NAR is not some neutral do-gooder entity, they are an association made up of companies that are in the business of of making massive profits off of housing. In 2018, the National Association of Realtors spent $72 million to lobby Congress to adopt policy that would be profitable for the members of their association. 

Second, the only source cited in the channel 17 story was real estate agent Jesse Baragar. Baragar is quoted as saying, “It’s affordable too, good first-time home buying area but just the parks and community and the walkability is the main reasons.” Let’s face it, this narrative, which is a standard narrative about the housing market, primarily targets white professionals and their families. In addition, it is the narrative used that promotes gentrification.

Third, Baragar goes on to say in the channel 17 story that, “It’s a hot price range, $178,000 is the average sale price in this area, very aggressive sale price.” Of course, the question here is, affordable for whom? There are thousands of people in Grand Rapids who make minimum wage or close to it, which automatically eliminates them from any possibility of buying a house in the 49505 zip code area at $178,000.

Fourth, the danger of stories like this one from Fox 17, is that it encourages more landlords and  property management companies to increase rent costs because of the “walkability, breweries and good schools” arguments. (If you watch the Fox 17 story, pay attention to the video footage and who is represented and what location is represented) Increased rental costs means that working class families and individuals will be priced out of the area and be forced to find housing somewhere else. Again, this dynamic will primarily benefit white people, white residents and white business owners, but it is a dynamic that WXMI fails to pursue, since that would take some actual work, whereas reporting on what the National Association of Realtors has to say is a whole lot easier.

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