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Participants at a meeting in Grand Rapids Tuesday involving state and local housing officials who are collaborating to achieve goals in a statewide housing plan. Participants at a meeting in Grand Rapids Tuesday involving state and local housing officials who are collaborating to achieve goals in a statewide housing plan. Credit: Kate Carlson/MiBiz

State, local leaders ‘lay the groundwork’ for statewide housing plan

BY Tuesday, March 21, 2023 08:47pm

GRAND RAPIDS — State and local housing leaders are beginning to collaborate on ways to accomplish goals established in Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s Statewide Housing Plan.

Officials from the Michigan State Housing Development Authority (MSHDA) met with local leaders in downtown Grand Rapids on Tuesday to begin strategizing around the Statewide Housing Plan, a five-year initiative that Whitmer announced last year to address the state’s housing shortage.

Tuesday’s meeting was one of 15 regional meetings that MSHDA is facilitating across the state. MSHDA divided the state into 15 regions that will each choose an organization to lead the local implementation of statewide goals and strategies, which include creating or rehabilitating 75,000 housing units that range in affordability and housing type. Reducing equity gaps in housing, reducing homelessness and increasing home energy efficiency are also among the statewide housing goals.

Gary Heidel, a MSHDA adviser who previously served for several years as the agency’s acting executive director, emphasized that the housing crisis will be solved by adding more housing stock and improving existing units. He praised lawmakers and the Whitmer administration for prioritizing “unprecedented” spending on various housing initiatives.

“One of the things that’s really helped a lot is the amount of resources the governor and legislature have put into housing, and it’s unprecedented,” Heidel said. “I’ve been around state housing strategies for three decades and we’ve never had anything like this. This really does give us an opportunity to really put a dent in this problem.”

‘Laying the groundwork’

About 80 people from various nonprofits, local governments and businesses gathered at the Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce offices on Tuesday for the regional kickoff meeting. Officials from MSHDA and Michigan State University Extension led a series of exercises to gather information on how all of the regional organizations could effectively work together on their housing goals as well as strategies in the Statewide Housing Plan. 

“We’re a diverse state, it’s not one size fits all,” said Karen Gagnon, policy adviser at MSHDA. “We want all of this work to be institutionalized and continue on in the future, regardless of who is governor. This meeting is about laying the groundwork. Not everybody who needs to be in this room is in this room right now.”

Brooke Oosterman, director of policy and communications at Housing Next, called the regional approach to statewide goals a “unique opportunity.”

“And we already have so many incredible things happening in the region, so we kind of already have the foundation,” Oosterman said. “That can continue to be strengthened, but we’re already doing amazing things. This is an opportunity to start not from square one, but to accelerate the collaboration that has existed here for years.”

Gagnon said MSHDA’s two-year process of compiling the Statewide Housing Plan lacked any sort of template because it was the first plan of its kind, though state officials did examine the work of local groups like Housing Next and Traverse City-based Housing North on educating and advocating for affordability. 

“No other states are doing this on the level we’re doing it,” Gagnon said.

Housing Next plans to apply to be the lead organization for the West Michigan region, Oosterman said. The West Michigan Housing Partnership region comprises 13 counties: Allegan, Barry, Ionia, Kent, Lake, Mason, Mecosta, Montcalm, Muskegon, Newaygo, Oceana, Osceola and Ottawa. 

“We are an organization with regional partnerships, but we don’t currently represent the whole region, so that would require an expansion of Housing Next, but we are already working in a lot of the areas in the region,” Oosterman said. “That could be a really good opportunity for us to be a lead or co-leader and make sure we look at what other entities we need to involve.”

Each of the 15 regional housing partnership lead organizations will receive a $75,000 grant from the state to organize and facilitate community meetings, provide updates to the region and create an action plan, Gagnon said. The organizations will go through an orientation process with the state and provide action plans by the fall of this year, and report their progress on a quarterly basis. 

“Whoever serves as the lead entity needs to be able to effectively engage multiple sectors to have everyone align behind this plan, because it’s the only way we’ll see a different outcome than we’ve seen in years past,” Oosterman said. “If we’re the best fit, we would love to be able to do that for this region and would commit to engaging cross-sector and collaboratively with our partners. We would love that opportunity but we also recognize there are a lot of incredible organizations in the room today.”

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