Hauenstein Center panel discusses region's housing shortage, solutions

As part of the Hauenstein Center’s Common Ground initiative, a panel of housing experts assembled on March 16 at the DeVos Center’s Loosemore Auditorium on the Pew Grand Rapids Campus to discuss the housing crisis facing Grand Rapids and West Michigan. 

Grand Rapids and Kent County are facing a shortage of affordable housing that will have detrimental effects on the region’s livability and appeal, unless more partnerships are nurtured and communities can develop strategies, the panelists said.

Brooke Oosterman, director of policy and communications for Housing Next, moderated the discussion which included Shane Phillips, author, consultant and researcher; Nicole Hofert, director of community and economic development for the City of Wyoming; and Jeremy DeRoo, CEO of Dwelling Place

Oosterman opened the conversation with sobering statistics. Citing data from Housing Next’s 2022 Housing Needs Assessment, Oosterman said Kent County faces a shortfall of 35,000 housing units over the next five years given the projected demand. That number increases to 49,000 housing units for the region of Ottawa and Kent counties.

Housing experts discuss Grand Rapids' housing shortage during a Hauenstein Center event.
Brooke Oosterman, left, with Housing Next, moderates a Hauenstein Center event on the region's housing shortage with Shane Phillips, second from left; Nicole Hofert, second from right; and Jeremy DeRoo.
Image credit - Emily Zoladz

Housing Next’s research shows the median sale price of homes in Grand Rapids has increased 99.2 percent since 2016, and demand has increased 59 percent in Grand Rapids. 

“We know that housing has a direct impact on student outcomes, health outcomes, our ability to create wealth and build opportunities for those traditionally marginalized,” Oosterman said. “We know that it impacts our ability to attract and retain top talent. We all have a vested interest as a community because what we desire most is directly impacted by housing.”

Hofert said one step to increasing the number of housing units begins with reclassifying or redefining zoning bylaws and embracing accessory dwelling units. An accessory dwelling unit is a secondary housing unit built on a single family residential lot. These include dwellings can be located above garages, built as detached suites or homes or even an addition to the existing home. 

“It’s providing an opportunity for a second family, or maybe your parents will move in there or a child can move in there while they are looking for a job opportunity,” Hofert said. “It’s just providing a way to add some mild density in the neighborhoods.”

Communities can also loosen zoning restrictions to include duplexes or quadplexes on single family residential lots, Hofert said.

“You're now opening up the market, you're helping developers bring new products to the community and you're helping residents who are existing in the community or new in the community to have housing options,” she said.

“Through some of those tools, you can maintain that neighborhood character but start chipping away at that 35,000 housing units that we have to provide.”


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