KENT COUNTY, Michigan – Western Michigan, like much of the country, is experiencing a housing crisis. John Bitely, president of Sable Homes in Rockford, said the situation will get worse before it gets better.
“The housing market is still very active. It’s different than it used to be in that we see single offers instead of multiple offers on houses. It can take 30 days to sell a house instead of three days,” Bitely said during an interview with FOX 17 Thursday at his office. “But, they still sell. There is still a very strong demand for housing.
According to a 2020 Housing Valuation Study by Housing Next, a group dedicated to addressing the housing crisis in Kent and Ottawa counties, the City of Grand Rapids will need 8,888 new housing units. by 2025. In the two counties combined, the number is 37,000.
Nationally, according to Freddie Mac, the housing shortage is 3.8 million.
“Rent is supply and demand, okay. First, there is not enough housing for everyone, whether it is rental housing, the houses themselves that people buy, townhouses, condos or even apartments. That’s not enough for the number of people in western Michigan,” he explained. “And again, as long as we continue to have jobs and the pay is decent, you have to have a place to live. So rents are going up because people, they’re not finding enough houses in the price ranges that make sense.
Thereafter, people are forced to rent, which only increases demand in this market, he said.
In July, RentCafe ranked Grand Rapids the sixth most competitive rental market of 2022, higher than major cities like Milwaukee (ninth), suburban Chicago (15th), and suburban Philadelphia (17th).
“There are people who run their budget at, say, 40% of their income. And, they’re forced to rent because they can’t get a mortgage at that,” Bitely said. “That’s not necessarily a bad thing. If we reach this level too high, we have bad debts and many problems that we have learned for a long time are a bad thing. But at the same time, when we don’t have enough affordable housing for people to buy, it forces them to rent.
Bitely added that builders like him have not been able to come out of this crisis. Bitely, who has been in the industry for 30 years, is trying to combat this problem. Last summer, local residents rejected his plan to build 70 houses in Sparta.
“It’s extremely frustrating. The first thing that happens in these types of meetings is that I am labeled as a developer, “I’m only here to make money,” he said. “Yeah, that’s what I do for a living. But by the same token, my passion for providing workforce housing or the somewhat affordable homes needed for these people remains on deaf ears. And it’s, it’s really sad.
In the summer of 2021, FOX 17 spoke with residents who were against the development. They said they were concerned about parking, space between houses, sewers and water supply, among other things.
Bitely said their decision had real consequences, however.
“The same people who are outraged that there is a neighborhood are the same people who are complaining that we are struggling to field our football team and [asking] why are we playing in Class D schools,” Bitterly said. “It wasn’t like this before.”
Bitely said he encourages potential new buyers and tenants to do their own research. However, he believes the way forward is for them and others to “speak up,” meaning writing letters and making phone calls to government officials and local and state lawmakers about the crisis and its impact.
Nevertheless, he reiterated that the crisis will get worse before it gets better.
“Be prepared for higher rents,” Bitterly said. “Prepare for a housing shortage. This can no longer be changed by manufacturers as it has been regulated beyond our ability to work within this framework.