GRAND RAPIDS, MICH. - If you've been looking for an apartment or house to rent, you know it can be nearly impossible to find something affordable.
The lack of low-income housing is a problem all over West Michigan and it’s directly related to homelessness.
During the month of February, WZZM has been tackling the issue in our series, “No Place To Call Home”. It is our hope to bring you information and solutions to the problem.
In one case, we spoke to 22-year old Briasia Roby, who is the mother of two children ages 5 and 2. In December, they moved into a new home. "It was the biggest blessing. It’s that breath I'd been waiting to take for 12 months."
In early 2017, Briasia says she ended a long-term relationship and found herself on her own and unable to pay rent. "Reality hit. I was faced with nowhere to go." Her descent into homelessness had begun. "Thank God I have my vehicle, because that's what it boiled down to. I had all my stuff in my truck." Briasia would take her kids to a relatives or their father's house for the night. "Not being able to provide and do what I'm supposed to do as a parent, broke me,” she says.
Briasia searched all over Kent County for an affordable home. Her bad credit and minimum wage job, was making it difficult. She had to pay a fee each time for a background and credit check. "The most heartbreaking part, you pay it, then they deny you. What do I do from here?"
Briasa also called 211, the United Way help line, they put her in touch with the Salvation Army. The organization screens applicants and helps them find housing. "Usually up to 6 months providing rental assistance and financial assistance, and develop a housing plant with that individual or family so they can be successful long-term," says Christina Soulard, Housing Services Director. The Salvation Army works with area landlords who are willing to provide affordable housing. Unfortunately, the list is getting shorter. The demand is high and inventory is low. "So, there are good things happening, but it doesn't take away from the fact that it's a challenge."
The Salvation Army often turns to organizations like the Inner City Christian Federation. The group builds and renovates homes for low income families. ICCF CEO Ryan VerWys says, "The pattern we see in Grand Rapids is what we're seeing in cities across the country. When the urban core, which were once seen as places people were dis-investing from, are now desirable."
The non-profit group recently paid 14.5 million dollars for a portfolio of homes in Kent County. "Really with the intent to preserve the affordability of those homes.”
The city of Grand Rapids is also addressing the issue by working with nonprofits and offering incentives to private developers who provide affordable housing. VerWys says "We're trying to work together to tackle, frankly, a giant of a problem.”
For Briasa, it has been an eye opening experience. After a year of searching, the Salvation Army found her a home. "When I moved in here, I had a couple of bags of clothes and my kid’s things."
She's still trying to gather furniture and hopes to find a higher paying job, but she's grateful to have a roof over her head. She says it's always been about providing a stable home for her children and finally feels like she's on her way. "No going back. I can't do that. No. No. It's good, it's better, there's hope."
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