The Rapidian Home

Citizens' housing, income, equity concerns become focus of Grand Rapids' second neighborhood summit

The Strong Neighborhoods, Strong City Summit brought together various community members and organizations to discuss current issues of housing, race and equity, neighborhood schools, and economic empowerment.
Ciciley Moore speaks up at the Strong Neighborhoods Summit

Ciciley Moore speaks up at the Strong Neighborhoods Summit /Steve Guitar

Underwriting support from:
Neighborhood Summit break out session

Neighborhood Summit break out session /Steve Guitar

Roberto Torres speaking up at the Strong Neighborhood Summit

Roberto Torres speaking up at the Strong Neighborhood Summit /Steve Guitar

Listening to the voices of the community and the neighbors themselves was a key theme of the 2016 Grand Rapids Neighborhood Summit. More than 350 people attended the Friday, March 11 event at GRPS University.

If Grand Rapids is to increase equity and inclusion in our neighborhoods, across the city and within City Hall, residents voices must be included. Planning and decision-making requires it, especially when formulating policy and initiatives that impact communities.

According to the results of the summit evaluation and recommendation ballot, the top five themes to emerge from this year's event participants are:    

  • affordable housing, and increased local commitment with advocacy at the state level 

  • income disparities and a call for local hiring and livable wages

  • authentic resident engagement

  • a targeted, universal approach to increase the capacity of neighborhoods with the strongest need, knowing the strongest need area might not have a neighborhood association and will need infrastructure support

  • a strategy to operationalize equity into decision-making

Several of these recommendations align with current City and community initiatives. The Great Housing Strategies report and the 2015 Summit recommendations contain many of these suggestions. For example, the targeted universal approach, which seeks to help all neighborhoods while focusing on those most in need, can help guide the 2015's Summit's request to increase neighborhood association capacity.

With the Mayor’s commitment to addressing racial disparities in Grand Rapids, the recommendation to improve equity within our organizations gives Grand Rapids a chance to lead by example.

The Summit included four workshops and a Keynote address:

• Housing for All

City Commissioner David Allen of the Kent County Land Bank Authority and Gustavo Rotondaro of Metrica, LLC. presented this workshop on affordable housing in Grand Rapids. Attendees shared that it was “Outstanding!” and “Extremely eye-opening.”

• Race & Equity

Program officers of the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, Andrew Brower and Yazeed Moore, who co-lead the foundation’s work in Grand Rapids, presented the workshop to maximize participant voice. The session captured recommendations for the City and other stakeholders moving forward. The Grand Rapids Racial Equity Network (GRREN) and the Summit Committee are now completing the summary of equity recommendations, expected at the end of April.

• Economic and Community Empowerment

Presented by Grand Rapids Economic Development Director Kara WoodLisa Haynes from the Westside CID and West Fulton Business Association; Jorge Gonzalez from the West Michigan Hispanic Chamber of Commerce; and Valencia Johnson Cooper, a local entrepreneur and Madison CID member, this workshop focused on the use of CIDs (Corridor Improvement Districts) and BIDs (Business Improvement Districts). The discussion centered on these districts and how each can benefit area residents.

• Neighborhood School Renaissance

Presented by Bridget Cheney of the Grand Rapids Public Schools and Elizabeth Hoffman Ransford of East Hills Loves Congress, this workshop highlighted the success, challenges and strategies used in transforming a neighborhood school through resident engagement and leadership. Attendees commented that the workshop contained “excellent content and delivery” and that they had a “Great experience! Learned a lot.”

• Summit Keynote Address

Renowned community engagement leader Eureka People Smith, owner of Evolve!, Inc., provided strategies to use for authentic community partnership. Evolve!, Inc. is an Indianapolis-based consulting firm with several clients in Grand Rapids.

During the Keynote, Smith detailed her A.L.L. (Ask. Listen. Learn.) strategy:

  • Ask powerful questions for culture, context and perspective.
  • Listen for the story. Every community has a story.
  • Learn what the community really wants.

Slides from the keynote and workshops are available on the summit’s webpage. The site also lists 24 official sponsors and 16 community-oriented committee members who made the summit possible.

Going forward, the Summit Committee encourages local partners and social justice organizations to continue their leadership and innovation connected to the recommendations. An example of a major effort and win would be businesses and organizations hiring local residents at a cost of living wage.

The Committee thanks community members who came to the summit for sharing their voice and perspectives. The recommendations will help strengthen neighborhoods and make Grand Rapids a stronger, more equitable place to live and work.

The Summit Committee's next step will be to complete the list of action-oriented recommendations. It plans make the finalized recommendations  available on the Summit webpage and to report these findings to the City Commission at the end of April, 2016.

The Rapidian, a program of the 501(c)3 nonprofit Community Media Center, relies on the community’s support to help cover the cost of training reporters and publishing content.

We need your help.

If each of our readers and content creators who values this community platform help support its creation and maintenance, The Rapidian can continue to educate and facilitate a conversation around issues for years to come.

Please support The Rapidian and make a contribution today.

Comments, like all content, are held to The Rapidian standards of civility and open identity as outlined in our Terms of Use and Values Statement. We reserve the right to remove any content that does not hold to these standards.