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Increased rent costs in Grand Rapids, bad media advice and the power of Tenant Unions

March 26, 2021

The increase in rent in Grand Rapids is nothing new. People have been feeling the high cost of rent for several years now, often resulting in people leaving Grand Rapids and going to surrounding communities like Wyoming and Kentwood.

On Wednesday, WOOD TV 8 ran a story about the high cost of rent, a story with the headline, “W. MI community members concerned about high rent prices.

The channel 8 story isn’t very in-depth, but it does offer a poll taken by a WOOD TV 8 reporter, who asked the question, “Has your rent personally gone up?” The informal poll showed that 55.3% of respondents said that rent had gone up for them by more than $100.

The article has one former renter, who left the area because of high rent costs. However, the only other people cited in the story are an investment specialist for NAI Wisinski and who rents out properties in Grand Rapids. Both of the comments from those who benefit from high rent costs DO NOT address the concerns about the high cost of rent, they divert attention to the old argument of market demand. 

The fact is, that in recent years, landlords and property management companies have jacked up the price of rental units because Grand Rapids has become more of a destination for those in the professional class, who can afford the increased costs. However, for those who have been living and renting in this community for the past several decades, the increased cost of rent has forced them out of the city. 

In 2015, there was a study done by the National Low Income Housing Coalition, which stated that to, “afford an average two-bedroom apartment in Michigan, you would need to make $15.16 an hour.” This was in 2015, so just imagine how much more you would need to earn to afford rent in Grand Rapids right now. Here is some very sobering data from the National Low Income Housing Coalition for Michigan that is from this year. 

To make matters worse, the local radio station WFGR took some of the content from the channel 8 story and made it even more ridiculous. The WFGR headline reads, How To Get Your High Rent Price In West Michigan Lowered.

In this awful article, they provide advice on how to get your rent lowered, which is:

  • ask for lower rent
  • have comparables ready
  • offer a longer lease for lower rent
  • ask about amenities
  • ask for pet increases and parking/garage costs to be removed
  • help landlords fill vacancies for a discount or credit
  • sell yourself as a model tenant
  • be nice!

Their advice is to allow the landlord, the property management company and the “market” to dictate the narrative around rental costs. The thing is, there is another way to get rent costs lowered, which is to join a tenant union. All across the country, tenant unions have been winning rent reductions, rent freezes and rent control. When tenants are organized, they can have a say in rental costs, rental conditions and rental contracts.

If you live in Kent County, you can contact that Grand Rapids Area Tenant Union, either through their Facebook page, or their e-mail, if you are interested in being part of the tenant union and fighting for housing justice!

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