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New housing project will not stop displacement in the Belknap Neighborhood, since displacement has been happening for decades to residents of that area

February 21, 2022

Last week, MiBiz posted a story with the headline, $12.2M Belknap Lookout affordable housing project aims to stop displacement in neighborhood. 

The article focuses on a project by Dwelling Place of Grand Rapids, which intends to build 52 affordable apartments in the Belknap Neighborhood. The article does not provide any information on the cost of said affordable apartments, but states:

The apartments will have a range of affordability, including for households earning 10 to 20 percent of the area median income on the low end.

Later in the article one of the developers is quoted as saying, “We’re trying to stop gentrification in an area going through a lot of redevelopment right now, but most of that has been higher residential projects.” Several paragraphs later we getting a contradicting comment from the Executive Director of the Neighbors of Belknap, Elianna Bootzin, who states:

“We are seeing residents being priced out of the neighborhood. We have some learning to do on what all of our options are for offering affordable housing.”

While the MiBoz article presents both the developer point of view and the Neighborhood Association point of view, they miss on providing substantial context to what has been happening in the neighborhood in recent decades.

In the 1990s, there was a major push on the part of Spectrum Health to transform the area to what is now know as the Medical Mile. 

Just a few years ago, when GVSU announced it wanted to expand their presence near their Michigan Street facility, the most recent wave of gentrification hit the area.

In the Spring of 2016, the Grand Rapids City Commission approved a major condo project, in what was to be known as the Coit Square Project. The site If the River Swells, provided an important analysis of the Coit Square Project, primarily through a class lens.

Then in the Fall of 2016, the physical changes to the neighborhood could be seen with the demolition of some 20 homes in order to make way for the new GVSU building. We took pictures of the demolition at the time and raised questions about the demolition as a form of displacement.

In September of 2016, just on the other side of the highway across from the Belknap Neighborhood, another development project tore down dozens of houses, occupied by working class families, only to construct 287 Market-rate apartments, which included a 4 story, 334 car parking garage. In this case displacement was a harsh reality for the families that were evicted from the rental units that ended up being bulldozed.

The MiBiz article also doesn’t include any information or discussion on the new GVSU construction, which often results in landlords shifting from families housing to student housing. GVSU even signed a Memorandum of Understanding about what they were hoping to avoid, even though in my opinion they have not really honored an agreement they knew would mere pacify residents who voiced concerns about the university’s development plans in that neighborhood. Lastly, there is no information on why there was significant concern on the part of residents of the Belknap Neighborhood over fears of displacement and being priced out, which is exactly what the source from the Belknap Neighborhood voiced concern over.

There has been gentrification in the Belknap Neighborhood, which will likely continue, unless there is a clear shift away from housing as a commodity to housing as a basic, fundamental right that everyone and every family should have.

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