Housing Now! Community Information Meeting Follow-up

Housing now! Make your voice heard!

We wanted to make sure to share a great one-stop-shop for all the resources we promised you tonight, thanks to our friends at the Eastown Community Association. Follow the link below to check out the talking points, the powerpoint, take a quick survey or send an email to your commissioner to share what you think!

We urge you all to voice your thoughts directly to our 2nd Ward Commissioners, Ruth Kelly and Joe Jones, whose contact information can be found at the link. At this link, you can also find a link to a survey, the results of which will be shared at the City Commission meeting tomorrow. Better yet, come to the City Commission meeting tomorrow at 7pm on the 9th floor of City Hall located at 300 Monroe NW and express yourself! At least one MNA representative will be in attendance as well.

Photo taken from the Housing Now! Community information meeting that happened earlier tonight. Photo credit: Eastown.org

The MNA is writing a letter to the City Commission at this very moment, and board approval is pending. We are still working toward the exact points of this letter, but the basics are what we heard from you, our neighbors! We’ve heard that you want affordable housing, but also want more community engagement and more data.

Take a look at the link below from eastown.org to get more information!


Grand Rapids Hopes to Reduce Carbon Footprint with Zero Cities Project

Grand Rapids, Michigan is taking a bold step towards reducing its carbon footprint. Grand Rapids is one of 12 cities that was selected to participate in the Zero Cities Project, which aims to reduce net carbon in the cities to zero by 2050.

Having zero net carbon means that buildings are either producing their own on-site energy, or they are purchasing enough renewable energy to meet the consumption demands of that building. In other words, they would no longer will be relying on energy that produces a lot of carbon as a result.

One great way to reduce one’s carbon footprint is using solar power, which is a major part of this project’s plan. The total solar power capacity in the United States reached up to 47.1 gigawatts in the middle of 2017. That is enough power to give electricity to 9.1 million homes. In the years to come, solar panels will be installed on several buildings in Grand Rapids in order to power them with the natural energy that is produced by solar panels.

Ultimately, the goal for Grand Rapids is to create a policy road map that will help work toward achieving a zero carbon building sector. First, city planners need to assess the city’s current sustainability projects and create a long-term plan for achieving its ambitious zero carbon goals. To do that, businesses will need to be incentivized to reduce their carbon footprint.

Alison Waske Sutter is Grand Rapids’ sustainability manager, and she described the city’s plan in an interview with Michigan Radio:

“The goal long term is to create a policy road map that will help us work toward achieving a zero carbon building sector. It’s really laid out, kind of in a three year plan, with this first year really focused attention on kind of evaluating our current policies, what type of incentives we have in place, and getting a handle on what is the carbon footprint of Grand Rapids’ building stock, so that’s our immediate focus right now.”

The city does not yet have a funding plan 100% put together for the project. They do know, however, that they plan on working in economic incentives to hopefully get business owners on board with the project.

While 2050 may seem far away, to meet their goals new policies will have to be put in place as soon as possible.

Grand Rapids Named 7th Best Market For House Flipping

Although the 2017 U.S. House Flipping Report shows that there are more flops than flips nationwide, the market in Grand Rapids seems to be much more favorable than most. In fact, Wallet Hub recently ranked the area as the seventh best in the nation for flipping homes.

Nearly 90% of real estate agents encourage homeowners to invest in landscaping prior to selling their properties, but it sounds like Michigan flippers have stumbled onto something more substantial than strategically planted shrubs and flowers. The main reason house flipping is so lucrative here is that real estate prices are relatively low, as are remodeling costs. According to WalletHub, the Grand Rapids remodeled home market is hot and offers a huge ROI.

Jill Gonzalez, WalletHub analyst, explained in the report, “Grand Rapids median initial purchase prices are quite low at just $74,000, ranking 16th lowest. Because of the fairly low initial purchase price, flippers in Grand Rapids see a return of 75% on average.”
Grand Rapids also has the sixth lowest kitchen remodeling costs in the nation: on average, it sets homeowners back just over $16,000. Bathroom remodels are the 14th lowest in the country, averaging at $7,417 in 2017.

According to local flippers, that translates into some impressive profits. Calvin Beeke told WZZM, “You can make upwards of $30,000 to $40,000 on one flip.”

Of course, part of the challenge is getting all that work done quickly. According to Beeke, a flip should ideally take only a couple of weeks. It’s essential to jump on a property right away and make sure the renovations stay on schedule.

You also have to have the available capital to do it. Many flippers are take on several properties a year (or even at once), as the promise of making such a substantial payday can keep them coming back for more. But according to national reports, more than 35% of homes flipped in the second quarter of 2017 were purchased with financing. In the previous quarter, that number was only 33.2%, and just a year ago, 32.3% of flippers used financing. Currently, financing for flippers is at a nine-year high.

Still, Michigan flippers are showing that it can work — given the right market conditions. WalletHub analyzed 150 major U.S. cities and rated them for 22 different indicators. Not only was Grand Rapids ranked seventh on the list of best places to flip homes, but it was also rated 25th for market potential and 38th for quality of life. While that doesn’t mean you’ll get lucky every time, it does set up more experienced flippers for success.

As Beeke said in his interview, “When you do make [a good profit], it’s the reward for the risk you took and the surprises that you didn’t encounter.”

New Salad Bar Continues Commitment to Healthy Eating Habits At Greenway

New school lunch options are coming to Greenway public schools. A new salad and soup bar will offer children new, healthier options during the 2017-2018 school year.

As childhood obesity continues to be an epidemic across the U.S., there has been a sharp increase in the number of schools that provide healthy offerings for their students. The hope is that encouraging a healthy diet among young students will encourage better eating habits, an important goal, especially considering that the average American eats 4.3 hamburgers per month.

There is a fair amount of research that shows that exposure to fruits and vegetables in school helps to familiarize students with types of food that they might get in the home, which can lead to more healthy food choices outside the cafeteria.

The introduction of a salad bar comes just two years after another program was instituted to increase students’ exposure to healthier foods. That is when Vandyke Elementary School initiated their Greenway Grows program, an outdoor learning experience that offers students the opportunity to participate in a school-wide garden.

Similar gardening are sprouting up across the country. In Palm Beach County, Florida, 123 schools have developed school gardening programs over the past three years alone. So far, these programs have met with tremendous success.

“Kids that grow food will try new food and are more likely to change their eating habits,” said Jeannine Rizz, the school garden coordinator partially responsible for the growth of such programs in Florida, said to WPTV.

But it isn’t only students who love these programs. With 79% of Americans believing that there are a number of different ways for children to learn and that not all students learn best in the same way, opportunities such as the Greenway Grows program, which gives students a hands-on educational experience, are a favorite for many parents.

Now, waste from the salad bar will become an integral part of the school’s garden, as students learn about how to recycle waste as compost. Additionally, this offers the students a real life biology lesson, giving a clear example of decomposition and the life cycle.

Officials at the school are excited for the new ways students can learn and experience, and hopeful that the conjunction of these two programs will have a lasting impact.

“Overall, the salad bar and the garden are a great pairing, they are valuable tools in creating lifelong learners with healthy habits,” Sue Hoeft, the Vandyke Elementary School Principal, said to the Grand Rapids Herald Review.

For parents interested in trying the school’s new salad bar, Greenway will be providing samples as part of their fall open houses. Two open houses are scheduled at the Greenway High School. The first will take place on August 29, the second on Thursday, August 31st.

Empire Beauty School Expands Into Ex-Competitor’s Location

Empire Beauty school in Grand Rapids is changing up its look by moving to a new location. Michigan Live reports that the school recently moved to 3583 Alpine Ave. NW in Walker. This was previously the location of the school’s most direct competition, Regency Beauty School.

And this new location could be the makeover that Empire needs.

“With easy access to public transportation and a much more visible location, this is a great move for our school,” Laura Pierce, regional vice president for Empire Education Group, said in a statement to Michigan Live. “We are happy to be able to provide cosmetology education in this building.”

The new building is a sprawling 6,000 square feet accommodating the 65 cosmetology students enrolled at the Grand Rapids location, according to Michigan Live. They also have campuses in Standale and Portage in West Michigan. Empire was able to buy the former Regency space after the competitor suddenly closed all of its U.S. campuses despite having 2,800 students actively enrolled.

“From a community standpoint, it was a tough time for everyone in the industry when Regency shut its doors,” Frank Schoeneman, chief executive officer of Empire Education Group, said in a statement. “No one wants to see a school closure in a community. As cosmetology educators, we share one goal, and that is to improve the lives of the students we serve.”

The demand for cosmetologists will always be there. A recent study of 3,000 women found that 44% changed their hair style or color just because they were bored, and 61% admitted to simply wanting a change.

However, job prospects for stylists could be getting even better in the years ahead. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, jobs for hairdressers, hairstylists, and cosmetologists are expected to grow by 10% between 2014 and 2024. This is faster than the average overall growth of all occupations in the United States.

Part of the much-needed cosmetology education force, Empire Beauty Schools, operating under Empire Education Group, was founded in 1946 in Pennsylvania, according to Michigan Live. They operate their 109 schools in 21 states.

Pontiac Senior Apartment Complex Destroyed In Fire; Community Coming Together To Provide Support For Residents

In Pontiac, an apartment complex for senior citizens caught fire, causing the need for emergency displacement, ClickOnDetroit reports.

The fire occurred at the West Manor apartments, which are located east of Woodward Avenue on Paddox Street.

Worldwide, over 1.5 billion people suffer from chronic pain, many of them senior citizens. Considering that the apartments were primarily occupied by senior citizens and retirees, many faced difficulties evacuating the complex in time. Luckily, two bystanders, Frank Benion and his brother, jumped into action to assist residents with evacuation, so everyone was able to escape and no serious injuries were reported.

“I was going down the hall, and this gentleman came and helped me out,” said Diane Ellsworth, who relies on a wheelchair for mobility.

She says a stranger appeared from the smoke, but before she could thank him, he “just took off and went to help someone else.”

As thankful as the residents are, Benion sees his actions as nothing more than a simple act of kindness.

“We ran on over there and started knocking on windows and doors…Not realizing the danger, just going in there and doing what a fellow citizen would do,” he said.

Benion also noted that even though the fire alarm was blaring, many of the residents were shocked into immobility.

“The people were in shock,” he said. “They didn’t believe what was going on.”

Even though everybody was able to escape safely, more than 50 seniors are now in need of emergency housing, and the community is quickly coming together to provide assistance, according to The Oakland Press.

Social Security makes up at least half of all income for 65% of retirees, which means that many of the residents affected by the fire may have trouble finding permanent housing. The apartment complex sustained serious structural damage from the fire and water used to extinguish it.

July 3, Patrice Waterman, council president, called an emergency crisis meeting at Pontiac City Hall to discuss displacement options. While around half were able to reside with friends and family, some were taken to New Birth International Church on Columbia Avenue and eventually transported to the Auburn Hills Marriott.

For a long term solution, the management of West Manor Apartments is discussing options with the city to find nearby vacancies. The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services has also been called on for assistance, as well as Meals on Wheels.

Ultimately, many community entities are quickly stepping up to show their support and help these senior citizens recover after losing everything.

“It was devastating to stand there and watch their lives go up in flames, but I have to commend the community,” said Waterman. “They came out and said what can I do, they were there with us, coming together to help those who have lost absolutely everything.”

Those interested in helping to provide assistance can call 248-758-3133 for more information.

Tires and Rims Stolen from Car Dealerships Across Michigan

Car dealerships in Cheboygan and Galesburg, MI were the victims of major thefts last week. Thieves took the tires and rims off of several vehicles in each dealership. But these are just the latest in a string of thefts that have taken place over the past several months.

According to Cheboygan County, Inverness Township-Sheriff Clarmont, several dealerships from Southern and Mid-Michigan all the way up to Cheboygan have been victims of a theft ring. The thieves reportedly used jacks to lift the vehicles, and patio blocks to keep them elevated after the wheels were removed.

In total, approximately 36 tires and rims were taken. The total loss rings up in the thousands for the Cheboygan car dealership.

“At this time we believe we are the farthest north this ring has traveled. We are working with law enforcement agencies across the state. At this time we know the target vehicles are special edition or upgraded rims on Fords, Chryslers and Lincolns. In many of the larcenies across the state the GPS systems are also targeted,” Clarmont said in a public statement.

Clarmont added that he believes the same ring may be responsible for other thefts across the state. It’s been reported that the ring utilizes radio communication and vehicle lookouts to organize their crimes. More than 67% of burglaries can typically be prevented with the use of security technology, but that hasn’t stopped the tire thieves. Scoping out the situation beforehand has given them an organized approach that may already take security into account.

Security equipment certainly didn’t stop this theft ring from stealing tires and wheels from new Ford Explorers, Expeditions and F-150 pickup trucks parked and for sale at the Galesburg Ford dealership.

According to office manager Karen Bowdish, a total of seven Explorers and two Expeditions on the lot were left without wheels. Five other vehicles were missing lugnuts and one E-150 van was even left without its seats.

Police report that the theft occurred the evening of Wednesday, June 21 or the morning of Thursday, June 22 around midnight. The sheriff’s office is currently investigating the theft, but as of right now there aren’t many leads. If caught, the individuals responsible for these thefts will likely join the 1% of civil cases that go to trial.

As such, anyone with pertinent information about any of the car dealership thefts is strongly encouraged to contact the Kalamazoo sheriff’s office as soon as possible.

West Michigan Towns Push For Beekeeping And Chicken Raising Law Reforms


In a country where nearly everything people consume is shipped from overseas and bought in a grocery store, farm and eco-friendly efforts are quickly growing in many states, and Michigan is no exception. Most recently, several cities are making legal strides toward allowing more residents to raise their own bees and chickens.
The Lansing State Journal reports that Delta Township Board of Trustees is considering reforming its zoning ordinances in residential neighborhoods, which currently restrict both bee and chicken raising.

Similarly, Grand Rapids is also working on loosening beekeeping restrictions. While the city legalized urban backyard chicken farming last year, it still has strict rules regarding beekeeping. The 13-year-old regulations only allow for beehives that are at least 100 feet from property lines and 150 feet from houses. For most city residents, those demands are simply impossible to meet.

One advocate of the loosening of beekeeping restrictions is Amy DeVrou, who voiced her concerns to the City Commission, according to MLive.

“The bees need our help,” she said. “Bees are important [for plant pollination and honey production] and they are dying off and we can do something about it…The main concern I hear is about people getting stung by bees. But modern bees are bred to be gentle and they don’t sting unless they’re threatened, stepped on or you’re going into their hive. When they’re out collecting pollen and nectar they have a job they’re trying to do.”

DeVrou’s argument seems more than sensible. While it’s true that honey bees can fly up to 15 miles per hour, the average person has a very low risk of being stung unless they’re intentionally aggravating the bees — they’re generally just trying to get their work done and stay out of the way.

The City of Holland, however, has allowed residents to raise both chickens and bees for years, according to Fox 17 News. Holland Charter Township officials are trying to do the same: improve self-sustainability by allowing residents to raise their own chickens and bees. A 12×12 inch box is all that is needed for a chicken to lay her eggs, and many residents would be grateful to have a bigger say in how they get their food.

“There’s a lot of people who would like to have chickens and bees,” said Holland Charter Township resident Tim Marr at a meeting Tuesday with the Planning Commission. “Like I said, the bee problem we’re having now they are so low they’re thinking about putting them on the endangered species list.”

“There’s really very little danger. With a little bit of education about the property, it really shouldn’t be a problem,” another resident chimed in. Fortunately, there didn’t seem to be much opposition to the proposal.

Hopefully, if these West Michigan towns continue to make strides toward eco-friendliness and self-sustainability, nearby towns will continue to follow suit.

Raise A Glass: Grand Rapids Ranks In Global Food And Drink Competition

Foodies rejoice: Grand Rapids has been recognized for its exceptional food and beverage tourism in a global competition. Michigan Live reports that Grand Rapids was just recognized by the FoodTrekking Awards, ranking second in the Best Food and Beverage Destination Experience category. Ontario, Canada took the top spot.

“We are looking for the world’s best destinations with exceptional food and drink experiences,” the category description reads. “Why is your destination the best? Do you offer an outstanding food and drink culture? Do you hold any gastronomic events or do you have simply the best farmers markets? All organizations that function in a “tourism promotion” function are eligible to apply.”

Grand Rapids, twice named “Beer City USA,” fits right into this category, according to the seven international food, drink, and tourism gurus who judged the competition. The judges select winners from applications submitted on the organization’s website. Kate Herron, the Director of Marketing with Experience Grand Rapids, said in a statement to Michigan Live that the ranking was well deserved.

“Beer City USA pairs perfectly with the emerging culinary scene in Grand Rapids,” she said. “We have a plethora of artesian culinary businesses popping up, and high quality restaurants as well which all contribute to this award in their own way.”

This recognition comes with the rise of digital “foodie” culture, with both Grand Rapids residents and tourists constantly posting photos of their culinary experiences. Breweries and similar businesses, for example, are hotspots for these social sharers, with over 11 million Instagram posts currently tagged #craftbeer. This has given local small businesses an entirely new way to find customers, as 51% of smartphone users discover new companies or products while searching on their mobile devices.

But social media users aren’t the only ones taking note of the growing Michigan restaurant scene. Grand Rapids foodie culture has been documented in national publications including Thrillist and Bon Appetit.

“Grand Rapids has tons of breweries and brewpubs and beer bars and beer-focused gastropubs, several of which we highlight here,” Nicole Rupersburg writes in Thrillist. “But that’s not all G-Rap is about! There is a huge focus on farm-to-table cuisine (easy for them, because the city is quite literally surrounded by a hundred miles of farmland in every direction), in-house butchery and charcuterie, and a pointed Michigan mindfulness.”

Michigan Live reports that applications for the 2018 FoodTrekker awards will open again in October of this year. Will Beer City USA rank again? Let your taste buds decide.

Air Force Disregards New Michigan Water Law Due to Legal Loophole

Despite the fact that Public Act 545, an amendment to Michigan’s Safe Drinking Water Act, took effect in January to essentially force the U.S. military to supply area residents with safe drinking water, it doesn’t look like the Air Force has any interest in complying.

Signed by Governor Rick Snyder, the bill was meant to help inhabitants of Oscoda whose wells were polluted with toxic chemicals. These toxic fluorocarbons — known as perfluoroalkyl substances (or PFAS) and perfluorinated chemicals (or PFCs) — have been leaching from the now-closed Wurtsmith Air Force Base for the last few decades. The chemicals are an unfortunate result of the use of firefighting foam during the 1970s, but no one knew about the seepage until the late 1990s.

Only 1% of the water on Earth is suitable for drinking as it is. Public Act 545, sponsored by Senator Jim Stamas (R-Midland), was enacted so that the state or federal government would have to provide an alternative water supply for impacted residents, so long as state health officials have issued a drinking water advisory and that the pollution’s source can be traced back to the government.

However, the U.S. Air Force says it doesn’t have to comply with the law because they say the law itself is unfair.

Mark Kinkade, spokesperson for the Air Force, cited the federal Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA), which states that the federal government doesn’t have to comply with a state law if it’s discriminatory. However, the Air Force may be taking some license with the term “discriminatory” in this case.

“The Michigan law does discriminate as it only applies to federal and state agencies, not to all entities and persons,” Kinkade explained. Therefore, he says, the “Air Force is not authorized to comply with the mandates of Act 545 to provide an alternative water supply or to reimburse the state of Michigan when it provides an alternative water supply.”

Senator Stamas actually decided to sponsor the bill after he was told by military officials that the Air Force would provide alternative sources of drinking water to those impacted if Michigan’s laws were amended to require it. Their complete 180 is a source of frustration for Stamas.

“I am extremely disappointed in the U.S. Air Force for not living up to its word and its responsibilities,” he said. “The federal government needs to be held accountable for what they did, and I will be asking Attorney General Bill Schuette to pursue action to enforce the law.”

At present, site enforcers still do not know the extent of the chemical plumes or their exact threat to human health. In animal testing, they’ve been tied to problems with the thyroid, kidney, liver, and reproductive organs, as well as other issues.