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The Fair Housing Center of West Michigan (FHCWM) is a private, non-profit organization dedicated to promoting equal housing opportunity and preventing illegal housing discrimination. The FHCWM together with the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and the National Fair Housing Alliance (NFHA) received funds from the settlement of a lawsuit alleging discriminatory housing practices of bank-owned properties. The FHCWM has been investing its share of the settlement funds for improvements in the neighborhoods of Grand Rapids in the 49507 zip code – an area affected by the alleged discriminatory practices. As with any investment, the FHCMN needs to gather data about the community to understand its needs and opportunities. The Center has partnered with Grand Valley State University (GVSU) in conducting research using the expertise of faculty and students in several disciplines, including the Economics Department.
Students in the Economics Department’s Senior Project (Capstone) course have analyzed the relationships between house prices, house characteristics, and neighborhood characteristics, such as distance to parks and grocery stores, and crime and foreclosure rates, which have been useful for FHCWM. In the long run, the FHCWM is also counting on the Economics Department to evaluate the impacts of the investments being made in 49507 zip code area.
Research projects such as these present ideal opportunities for students to prepare for their professional careers. The students have the opportunity to apply what they learn in their classes while providing valuable information for local community groups. They also benefit from first-hand experience working with real-world data, learn how to present their research results to community partners, and get involved in public policy decisions. Through involvement in this project, students develop applied analytical skillsets, establish professionalism, and engage with the community.
As the partnership between FHCWM and GVSU grows, the Center anticipates gathering more insights which could guide their investments plans. Creating student-community connection not only brings benefits to the student but also has the potential to contribute to the development of the community at large. The Economics Department is hopeful that because of its partnership with the FHCMN, Grand Rapids, and in particular the residents in the neighborhoods in the 49507 zip code area, will benefit from the community service project. For more information, or if your organization is interested in partnering with the Economics Department, please contact the Economics Department Chair, Aaron Lowen, at Lowena@gvsu.edu.
Sources: Fair Housing Center of West Michigan. http://www.fhcwm.org/