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The Chamber of Commerce created group, Housing Next, is vying for state grant money to facilitate all things housing in West Michigan – why we must oppose this!

April 10, 2023

In their last edition in March, the weekly publication MIBiz, ran an article entitled, State, local leaders ‘lay the groundwork’ for statewide housing plan. 

The Michigan State Housing Development Authority (MSHDA) is holding meetings across the state to talk with “leaders” in several regions of Michigan, to both lay out the State’s plan on housing, but also to learn what regional groups are doing to address the current housing crisis. The State goal, as presented by MSHDA, are the following: 

  • Creating or rehabilitating 75,000 housing units that range in affordability and type.
  • Reducing equity gaps in housing, and reducing homelessness.
  • Increasing home energy efficiency. 

According to the MIBiz article, “About 80 people from various nonprofits, local governments and businesses gathered at the Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce offices for the regional kickoff meeting.” 

There are several things that should be alarming about who the 80 people were at this meeting in late March. Nonprofits usually means the nonprofit housing groups like ICCF, Dwelling Place and other groups that do not fundamentally challenge to the massive wealth gap in West Michigan; government, most likely meant Grand Rapids and Kent County officials, who have also been unwilling to radically imagine what housing justice could look like, along with businesses. Of course there were businesses present, which usually translates into businesses that are developers and will profit from more construction contracts, along with businesses that want to attract talent to the area and have been demanding more new housing. When businesses say talent, they overwhelmingly mean professionals. This list should concern those who want housing justice.

Then there is the issue of who was not invited. Most important, those not invited were the unhoused and those that are housing insecure, primarily tenants.The Grand Rapids Area Tenant Union was not invited, along with other community-based groups that do advocacy and make the connections between housing insecurity, racism, poverty and other systems of oppression. 

Lastly, we should all be alarmed by the fact that this meeting was held at the offices of the Grand Rapids Chamber of Commerce. The Grand Rapids Chamber of Commerce not only has a long anti-worker history, they also have consistently opposed increases in the minimum wage and most definitely living wage campaigns across the country. In addition, the Chamber of Commerce has consistently supported the Realtor Associations and Property Owners Associations (landlords) when it comes to public policy matters, this favoring these sectors of working class families seeking to find safe and affordable housing.

Not only did the GR Chamber host this meeting, the group that they created, Housing Next, is hoping to be the organization that receives funding from MSHDA to facilitate future meetings/planning centered around housing for the rest of this year. The MiBiz article states that each region will, “receive a $75,000 grant from the state to organize and facilitate community meetings, provide updates ton the region and create an action plan.” Do we really want a Grand Rapids Chamber of Commerce created entity to be the primary entity around housing in West Michigan? It would seem that MiBiz supports this notion, since the rest of the article cites the director of policy for Housing Next several times in the later half of the article, with no other potential entity being a potential recipient of the grant money even being mentioned in the article.

GRIID has written about Housing Next and their ideological leanings over the past year. About a year ago, Housing Next held a similar meeting in Ottawa County with 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. Housing Next had sent out an announcement about the meeting, using the following statement of purpose. The meeting “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? Therefore the Housing Next solution is based on a housing charity model, not a housing justice model.

The more recent article we have written about Housing Next was from February of 2023. In that GRIID article it states: 

The “solution” to the current housing crisis, according to Housing Next, involves local government, developers and non-profits. The fact of the matter is, Housing Next offers no real solution to the housing crisis, only the same old model, the market. This is not a solution or maybe more aptly named a false solution. This is because under a market system, housing is nothing more than a commodity that can be bought and solid to make profits. For the Chamber and those sectors of society who believe in the market, housing is not a fundamental human right.  Housing within a market economy, particularly home ownership, is for those who can afford it, which leaves out millions of people in the US alone. 

We also include a list of other ideas that are not market based, ideas which see housing as a fundamental right for everyone. In that article we identified several tactics to address the current housing crisis, including:

  • Paying people a livable wage, which right now would be $25 an hour minimum
  • Reducing the wealth gap in Kent County, where there are over 600 millionaires, but 25% of the population subjected to poverty.
  • Government regulated rent control
  • The creation of Tenant Unions
  • Stop the influence peddling by Real Estate and Rental Property Associations, especially during election cycles, as we documented in 2022. 
  • Re-direct part of the massive US Military Budget ($858 Billion for 2023) and use it to provide housing for people, particularly the most marginalized communities.
  • Practice Radical Hospitality, particularly in the faith communities. Imagine home many people who are currently housing insecure, could benefit from the resources and hospitality of the faith communities. 
  • Limit large corporate property management companies or real estate investors from operating in Grand Rapids/Kent County.
  • End government subsidies/tax breaks for developers.
  • Promote cooperative housing and Community Land Trusts.

The bottom line is that the Housing Next model 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. Having Housing Next be in charge of hosting community meetings, and providing updates around the current housing crisis in West Michigan will just mean that the same old failed market-based solutions will be implemented and the housing crisis will continue. We cannot let this happen.

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