Posts Tagged ‘Public Policy’

It’s About Time for Single-Family Housing Inspections!

As published in the Grand Rapids Press on October 8, 2011.

As landlord, investor, and property developer in Grand Rapids for more than thirty years, I am pleased to see a proposal for single-family rental inspections in Grand Rapids.  This policy will support the work of many residents and organizations that have restored the neighborhoods of our city.  I strongly feel that these are the right policies at the right time.

Certifying single-family rental units is smart idea for the following reasons:

First, quality housing is not only good for tenants, but good for the neighborhood.  The argument that this policy will make housing less affordable, put landlords out of business, and cause more foreclosure is not data-based.  Quality housing lowers vacancy rates and enhances the stability of neighborhoods.  The proposed inspection fee averages to $5.50 a month.  If this fee is unaffordable to any landlord they are in the wrong business.  If a property requires extensive work to bring it into compliance, then this policy is fulfilling its goal.

Second, it is clear to me that certifying single-family rental units will create equity in the market.  Why should my multi-unit properties be subject to inspection and not the single-family rental next door?  Everyone should adhere to the same standards.  Kentwood and Wyoming already have similar ordinances.  We need to end the special exemptions for single-family rental units in Grand Rapids in order to protect our citizens from unscrupulous landlords that take advantage of this loophole.

Lastly, these policies support the preservation and improvement of our neighborhoods.  Quality housing is an essential part of a neighborhood’s success.  This policy has been needed for decades, but due to the dramatic increase in single-family rental units in the last three years, this ordinance will support neighborhoods that have seen foreclosures threaten their stability.  A strong housing stock maintains property values, improves quality of life, and makes our neighborhoods attractive to young professionals – which then support the City of Grand Rapids.

The paradox of the Rental Property Owners Association’s (ROPA) argument opposing the ordinance is that they repeatedly state that there are good landlords maintaining their properties (I would consider myself one), but the main reason not to enact these policies is the inspections are too costly or it will cost them too much to bring it up to code.  That does not make sense.

Some rental property owners have advised me to invest in single-family rentals so that I can stay “under the radar” of the inspections department.  This is counter to those who wish to maintain a quality housing stock in Grand Rapids.  A basic standard for rental housing that protects the health and safety of our citizens is essential for a vibrant and thriving community.

City staff, local agencies and charitable organizations have worked diligently to produce new ordinances that reflect our current reality and they deserve to be commended.  For the RPOA to call these concerned citizens a “special interest group” is laughable!

The City Commission needs to enact this ordinance ASAP in order to keep Grand Rapids on its path to sustainability.

Land Banks Rock: a new tool for reinvesting in our community

The Kent County Land Bank has the potential to be a fabulous new tool for redeveloping vacant properties in Kent County.  As a green urban developer, having chronically vacant properties in neighborhoods impede our revitalization efforts.  They lower property values, invite crime, and can quickly become an eye sore. I strongly encourage everyone to attend the Kent County Land Bank forum on March 23. This innovative idea could be a boon for our redevelopment efforts.  Initially, it was hard for me to be enthusiastic about Land Banks.  After some prodding from a friend, I did some preliminary research regarding this topic.  Now, I am excited!

Over the last 10 years we could have used this redevelopment tool to enhance the success of the revitalization of Uptown.  Today, this tool can help other upcoming Grand Rapids neighborhoods and Kent County communities manage their blighted properties and hold key locations for future redevelopment.  We would like to see other neighborhoods become as vital and successful as Uptown has over the last 5 years.  By having the Kent County Land Bank as a community re-development partner, we can succeed in redeveloping our communities over the long term.

Land banks have been gaining popularity nationwide for their positive impact on reducing blight and reusing vacant properties to help neighborhood revitalization amidst the foreclosure crisis.  Instead of selling foreclosed properties at auction, the County can put them into the land bank and maintain them until they are transferred to developers to be rehabbed and sold.  The land bank provides numerous incentives for developers such as:  title clearance; forgiving back taxes and liens; holding properties tax free during development; providing access to Brownfield tax credits even for properties that are not contaminated; option for Tax Increment Financing (TIF); and ability to assemble properties for large scale development.

The Land Bank could also work as an economic gardening tool.  We could use ours to help grow local entrepreneurs from within our communities.  Second-stage enterprises could use this tool to expand their capacity resulting in increased local employment.  In this way, the Land Bank could be utilized as a socially responsible vehicle to include the revitalization of people as well as properties.

We need this tool to stop the erosion of many neighborhoods caused by the foreclosure crisis.  The land bank could transform Grand Rapids’ neighborhoods by fighting blight and reusing properties for various community needs (i.e. more green space, build density, integrate public transit, etc.).  Many cities hit hard by foreclosures have already adopted this tool.  We can benefit from the experiences and successes of communities that have had operating land banks for a number of years.  These include Cleveland, Atlanta, Philadelphia, Minneapolis, and Baltimore as well as Lansing, Flint, Muskegon, Kalamazoo and Detroit.

The Ingham County Land Bank has been successful in reclaiming underutilized properties and historic resources.  They have successfully partnered with for-profit and non-profit developers, real estate professionals and local entrepreneurs to identify new uses and occupants for vacant properties.  We would do well to follow their lead.

The Kent County Land Bank Authority Board (KCLBA) began meeting in June of 2010 and has been working to create founding documents.  The KCLBA has begun to reach out to the public for their engagement.  This upcoming event is the first step to involve others in the task of strategically selecting the properties for the land bank.

The March 23 forum will be held from 3:30 pm- 5:00pm at the Dominican Center (2025 E. Fulton) to educate the public on the specific tools land banks provide and how they can positively affect economic and community development in neighborhoods and communities.  The keynote speaker, Eric Shertzing, will share his insights derived from his involvement with the Ingham County Land Bank.  We’ll all gain a better understanding of this newly created authority and learn how land banks can partner with community development efforts to reuse vacant residential and commercial properties to spur economic and community development.  Kent County Treasurer Ken Parrish will explain the status and next steps for our land bank and how to get involved.  I urge other developers, as well as community leaders, elected officials, city/township planners, nonprofits involved in neighborhood issues, and interested residents to attend.

This new dynamic tool in Kent County provides a great opportunity for strategic development through vacant property reclamation.  For urban developers this event is not to be missed!