John Bitely featured guest speaker at United Way Community Leadership Conference on Affordable Housing

As guest speaker at the United Way Community Leadership Conference on Friday, March 18, Sable Homes President John Bitely addressed the need for affordable housing in West Michigan.

“Many of us have forgotten what 2006 was like,” said Bitely as reported by the Greenville Daily News. “Greenville, Eureka Township, instantly, overnight, that housing market was hit when Electrolux closed. In that area, they instantly had too many houses. With the 2006-2008 economic crash, $4 gasoline, the loss of jobs, it all made it impossible to make your budgets work and live and work in Greenville.”

If rural counties, such as Montcalm and Ionia, don’t adapt to the growing need of housing, their communities will be left to suffer economically, Bitely told the audience inside Belding High School, according to the Daily News. Bitely said he is aware of communities where he has been denied a chance to build homes, which he has since watched have their grocery stores and other establishments close due to a lack of commerce as the population ages and declines.

Today, with the growing demand for housing in the state, he said these same communities can embrace that need and build themselves back up as desirable locations for working Michiganders to call home. But with demand having returned, Bitely said communities once hit hard by the Great Recession can now address the housing issue and grow again.

“If you don’t encourage some growth, you’re dying,” he told the audience. “Most of our communities need about 50 to 80 new homes at a time. That is the growth we can sustain, that is the amount I can build.”

According to Randy Thelen, president and CEO of The Right Place in Grand Rapids, explained that Montcalm and Ionia counties, which are surrounded by two of the state’s largest metropolitan areas, are in a unique situation to take advantage of the current housing crisis plaguing the state, the Daily News reported.

“You have Lansing, Grand Rapids, and in the middle, it’s Ionia and Montcalm,” he said. “There’s good pressure coming from both directions, in terms of people needing housing, and these two counties have to be ready to receive it.”

Especially coming out of the coronavirus pandemic, Thelen said many people who work in densely-populated areas are eager to live in more rural settings and commute to work in the larger cities, but at present, Montcalm and Ionia counties do not have the housing available to meet these needs.

“People want to live in these smaller communities, especially coming out of this pandemic where density wasn’t necessarily a good thing,” he said. “It gets pretty cozy after a while, living a more rural, suburban lifestyle is growing in interest and I think there is high potential for this locally going forward.”

Read the full story, here.