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The same people who created the Housing Next fund in West MI, are the same people who oppose paying workers enough to afford housing

March 14, 2022

On March 3rd, the Grand Rapids Chamber of Commerce made the following announcement:

Through the leadership and contributions of Haworth and both the Community Foundation of the Holland/Zeeland Area and the Grand Haven Area Community Foundation, each foundation made their largest and longest commitment of funding to establish Housing Next 4 years ago. Their goal was to create workforce housing for individuals and families employed in Ottawa County who were unable to afford to live there. Housing Next has already supported the approval of thousands of new multi-family rental units and for-sale homes in Ottawa County through the revision and modernization of 6 local zoning codes with the goal of reducing regulatory barriers and increasing diversity of housing product in the market, partnering with 4 communities on the contribution of public land for affordable/attainable and market-rate housing, collaborating with 21 different developers (for-profit & non-profit) to leverage more than 3,900 new housing starts and 30 new developments across the County, managing the Ottawa and Kent Housing Needs Assessments, and assisting in the creation of the Grand Rapids Affordable Housing Fund.

While this announcement might be viewed by some as good news, it is ultimately a false solution, wrought with contradiction. 

The Grand Rapids Chamber of Commerce, along with several other local chambers, furniture giant Haworth, several banks, the Windquest Group and the DeVos Family Foundation are hoping that we view this announcement with a great victory against the current housing crisis. It isn’t. 

The language from the announcement is instructive, in that it states that the goal, “was to create workforce housing for individuals and families employed in Ottawa County who were unable to afford to live there.” Now, any reasonable person would ask themselves why can’t workers afford to live in the communities that they work in? The simple answer is because these individuals and families don’t make enough to afford the cost of housing in the communities that they work in.

The solution being offered by the numerous area Chambers of Commerce, is to create a fund that comes from the business community, foundations and local banks, which would allow these individuals and families to afford the cost of housing in the communities where they work. However, wouldn’t it make a whole lot more sense to have all of the companies in West Michigan make a commitment to paying people a livable wage, which would allow them to afford the cost of housing in this area?

While the idea of paying people a livable wage makes complete sense, the fact that most companies in this area don’t pay a livable wage, gets to the heart of my argument. The fact of the matter is that the Grand Rapids Chamber of Commerce and most of the partner groups with Housing Next have actively opposed an increase in the minimum wage for decades, let alone any talk of a livable wage. In addition to opposing an increase in the minimum wage or actually paying a livable wage, the Chamber of Commerce has a long history of being against a just maternity leave, union organizing, and they supported Michigan becoming a Right to Work state. Here are some other more recent stances taken by the Chamber of Commerce:

  • Property tax deferment for businesses, which Whitmer has vetoed twice
  • Regulatory flexibility 
  • A possible end to licensing fees
  • Eliminate or reduce business unemployment fees
  • Improve work research requirements to make people take jobs that don’t pay well
  • Education testing to make sure that students are work ready. In other words, the GR Chamber sees education as talent production
  • Creating more childcare options to get people back into the workforce and improve productivity
  • Criminal Justice reform for the GR Chamber is about getting more formerly incarcerated people into the workforce, which the Chamber also sees as a Talent issue
  • Continuation of the Going Pro Program, which transfers public money to private businesses for training purposes

In 2008, the Grand Rapids Chamber of Commerce created the West Michigan Policy Forum, which has since become an independent entity. The West Michigan Policy Forum was created to actively influence public policy at the state level, policies that would assist or hinder the business community. 

Matt Haworth, Chairman of Haworth Inc., was quoted in the March 3rd announcement saying, “My decision to support this project was because of its strong alignment with our values- values that extend beyond our business to the communities and people we rely on including: embracing community learning, market-based solutions, leading with design, creating value, and working to make the world a better place.” Haworth also sits of the Board of Directors of the West Michigan Policy Forum and is a major contributor to political candidates which support the kind of public policies that benefit members of the business class, at the expense of everyone else.

In fact, if you look those who sit on the board of the West Michigan Policy Forum and the community partners of the Housing Next project you see a great deal of overlap.

The bottom line is that the Housing Next project is a false solution, since it involves the very same organizations, businesses and individuals that have done everything in their power to promote wealth creation for the business class, while creating a vast array of obstacles for everyone else who lives in West Michigan and cannot afford the cost of housing. Creating a housing fund made from money that, in essence, has been withheld from the wages of workers, should never been seen as a solution, but rather as a public relations stunt to make us all think these people and these businesses give a shit about the rest of us. 

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