Millennials Struggle to Find Affordable Housing in Grand Rapids

There is currently a big push for an increase in minimum wage. In my earlier discussion about minimum wage, I talked about how the problem wasn’t with wages, but rather the high cost of living in Grand Rapids. Grand Rapids is currently one of the hottest housing markets. People want to live in Grand Rapids and the housing market reflects this. According to a 2017 report by Trulia, Grand Rapids ranked 11th in the country for job growth and ranked 17th for its share of millennial households. Grand Rapids is the place to be right now and there is not enough housing to meet the demand. What this means for Grand Rapids renters and home buyers is that rent and home prices are going up!

We are trying to attract talent and workers to this area, we have the job growth but people can’t find rent that matches their income. The big problem right now is that the housing market both in home sales and rentals is not meeting the demand for people seeking mid-priced housing. Because of this people are paying over asking prices when buying homes. Ask anyone who’s recently bought a home in the area and they will tell you how hard it is to buy a mid-range priced home.

Rent is also going up. Because tenants are staying put, this leaves less available houses and apartments for rent. The remaining rentals are going up in price because of the demand.

Why is rent so high and what can we do about it?

Zoning laws, government regulation, and high property taxes kill affordable housing

Non homestead property owners pay around 30% higher taxes than homestead property owners. This increase in taxes is passed on to renters. Thus, it costs more to rent a home than it does to buy. In addition, there is not enough new development in affordable housing.

Should government provide the answers?

Let me start by saying that we need to change our mindset that it is the government’s responsibility to create lower rent. Housing supply and demand should dictate rent prices. However, we are doing numerous things to slow down growth in the housing market. Without new houses, new apartment buildings, and growth, there will continue to be a shortage. This shortage will continue to drive up the price of rent. Millennials are finding jobs and settling down in West Michigan. We have the job growth, now to allow room for growth in affordable housing.

There is never a simple answer to complicated problems. When planning for growth, property owners also have concerns. Anything that creates room for more affordable housing, might also compromise property values for current owners. Remember the big housing bust of 2008? Nobody wants to see a repeat of this. However, if we want our area to grow in talent and population, we need to allow for solutions for affordable housing.

Homelessness and affordable housing are issues that are completely intertwined and issues that I am passionate about fixing in this area. There have been contentious discussions locally regarding planning and accommodating growth in the area. While zoning laws are a local issue, some legislators have started to look into state-level solutions. We need to be mindful of both the current residents (their home values, their concerns for their community), while still looking out for residents that are in need of affordable housing.

I would like to see Grand Rapids continue to grow, improve the supply of affordable housing, and without state government dictating how they should do it. We have a great community and are capable of finding solutions to bring down rent and allow for more affordable housing development.