65 affordable housing units coming to GR

Plans for affordable housing units being built by Inner City Christian Federation.

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD0 — A grant from the state to clean up contamination at a former dry cleaner on Eastern Avenue means construction on affordable housing can begin.

The Inner City Christian Federation plans to build 65 units at a cost of $18 million to one of the areas feeling the squeeze of West Michigan’s sky-rocking housing costs. Some estimates say costs have increased by as much as 60 percent over the past five years.

The vacant, decaying buildings in the 500 block of Eastern Avenue once housed a used book store and a dry cleaner.

The dry cleaner left the ground contaminated and unwanted by developers, but the Michigan DEQ approved a $249,000 grand that will allow ICCF to begin work on a project 10 years in the making.

“It will now be a place that will have safe housing for families and individuals who need a place to call home,” said Ryan VerWys, president and CEO of Inner City Christian Federation.

ICCF has developed more than 500 units in West Michigan.

The two four-story buildings will include housing units for low-income people with rents adjusted for their particular situation.

There will also be some unique aspects beyond just one, two and three bedroom apartments.

“There will be live/work units where folks who are entrepreneurs, who want to start their own business but want to keep their costs low can have a place they can both live in and do business out of,” VerWys said.

Seventeen of the units will be for homeless young adults age 18 to 24, who often age out of programs for children, with support to help them succeed.

“So, we have services built right in, case workers from Bethany Christian Services will come on site and provide support for those transitional-age youth,” VerWys said. “We’re really trying to pay attention to how we can prevent homelessness and that age group is really vulnerable to homelessness.”

But Elijah Libbet, owner of soul food restaurant Ellnora’s Kitchen, worries this development does not benefit the current residents of the neighborhood who are being forced out due to the housing crisis.

He says there needs to be ownership and stakeholders. He worries that the housing costs will be too high and that this is a prestige project, not something that will benefit the people who really live in the neighborhood.

“If you take and beautify this neighborhood, it’s good, but the people — when you misplace the people, then that’s where my concern comes in at,” he said. “When you talk about building housing, that’s one thing, but when you talk about building the community, that’s another thing.”

VerWys said nobody is being displaced and dilapidated buildings that were a drag on the area will be replaced.

“This building really represents a way that we can preserve affordability for 60-plus households,” said VerWys. “I think it will help, in the long run, stabilize this community.”