April 17, 2024

The Fascinating People of Housing

Guest Opinion
By Yarrow Brown | March 2, 2024

Thinking about the theme of this week’s Northern Express, I wanted to highlight some fascinating people around housing, including the very important Housing Ready teams that are being deployed in Northwest Michigan to help support the housing needs of the 10 counties.

When we think of people who exemplify housing efforts, many of us first think of Jimmy Carter. The Carter Work Project, led by the former president and his wife, Rosalyn, has been involved with Habitat for Humanity in the construction of 4,300 homes in 14 countries around the world. For Carter, having a house is about more than having a safe place to sleep. It is about community, a sense of belonging, and the dignity that comes with building, maintaining—and paying for, with some help—a home of one’s own.

In San Antonio, the actress Eva Longoria is expecting a shortage in affordable housing, so she created a foundation that helps Latinas by supporting them in their education and careers. She realized that even once these women get a job, a lot of times they cannot afford a place to live and has started to invest in affordable housing and advocate for more housing projects.

One of my favorite eighties bands, Bon Jovi, is also involved in supporting housing. Jon Bon Jovi founded the JBJ Soul Foundation which has provided “support for over 700 units of affordable and supportive housing in 11 states and Washington D.C.” In 2014, Project HOME was launched, "a mixed-use development with 55 units for formerly homeless or low-income residents" and it includes other uses like retail and offices. Every resident in Project HOME has access to basic healthcare and fitness classes through the foundation’s Health Initiative Program.

For those who love Star Wars, creator George Lucas changed his plans when he bought a 1,000-acre ranch in Marin County, California, for a production studio and the locals protested. In the end he decided to use the land for Grady Ranch, which includes several residences. According to Lucas, “We've got enough millionaires here. What we need are some houses for regular working people.”

Others who have done groundbreaking work around housing include Robert C. Weaver. He was the first Secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and the first Black person to be appointed to a U.S. government cabinet-level position in 1966. What is most remarkable about his leadership was that he expanded affordable housing programs and championed the passage of the 1968 Fair Housing Act.

Patricia Roberts Harris was the first African American woman to hold a cabinet position when she was appointed HUD Secretary of Housing and Urban Development in 1977. Harris brought aid to deteriorating neighborhoods and worked to bring business back to impoverished areas. 

Marcia L. Fudge is the current secretary of HUD. Secretary Fudge is committed to solving our nation’s urgent housing challenges and believes communities should serve people. I am fascinated by her ability to work tirelessly to help low-income families, veterans, and older adults realize the dream of home ownership in communities across the country. Under Secretary Fudge’s leadership, HUD published the Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing rule, which requires communities that accept federal funding to create plans to address local housing discrimination or face a penalty. The rule is intended to combat racially segregated neighborhoods and further uphold the 1968 Fair Housing Act.

Statewide and regionally, I can think of several fascinating leaders who are moving the needle on housing. There is Tom Woodman from Citizen Robotics, which just had their first opening of a 3D printed home in Detroit. Al Everet of THRIVE creates attainable housing and brings new technologies such as 3D printing to our region. Jon Stimson of Homestretch is incorporating mass timber and panelized construction into homebuilding. Tina Allen, with New Waves Church, is leading a collaborative housing project with Habitat for Humanity Grand Traverse Region alongside Wendy Irvin, their executive director. Sarah Ulrich, director of Northwest Michigan Habitat for Humanity, is leading a project in Alanson using modular homes and providing universal access designs.

This year the state recognized the critical need for housing. We have a strong group of people on our regional Housing Ready team for Region D, or the 10-county region, to help communities reach their housing goals. Kent Wood with Borealis Strategic is helping to support our policy and advocacy work in Lansing and across the region. Ryan Kilpatrick and his team at Flywheel Consulting will be supporting Benzie and Leelanau Counties with new housing collaboratives, zoning reform, housing funds, and project support. Susan Leithauser-Yee will be the main contact for Grand Traverse County, supporting housing goals and initiatives for the county with the highest need for housing. Erick Kehoe and Suzanne Shultz with Progressive AE will be focusing on Wexford and Missaukee Counties. The other five counties are supported by an existing team of professionals supporting the Housing Ready initiative.

We cannot do this work alone. We will need everyone to support our communities and create collaborative and important projects led by fascinating people.

Yarrow Brown is the executive director of Housing North, a 10-county housing agency serving northwest Michigan.

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