John Bitely to FOX 17: ‘Be prepared for higher rents’ as housing crisis continues in West Michigan

In an interview with FOX 17, Sable Homes President John Bitely explained that the housing crisis in West Michigan will likely get worse before it gets better.

“The housing market is still very active. It’s different than it was in that we’re seeing single offers instead of multiple offers on homes,” Bitely told FOX 17. “It may take 30 days to sell a home instead of three days. But, they’re still selling. There’s still a very large demand for housing.”

According to a 2020 housing assessment study by Housing Next, a group dedicated to combating the housing crisis in Kent and Ottawa counties, the city of Grand Rapids will need 8,888 new units by 2025. In both counties combined, the number is 37,000.

Nationwide, according to Freddie Mac, the housing shortage is 3.8 million.

“And part of that problem is we can’t produce the lower-priced homes because of regulation and lack of ability to develop affordable property, lots and workforce housing – the average ‘Joe’ is hurting.

“Rent, it’s supply and demand, okay. Number one, there’s not enough housing to go around whether it’s rental units, whether it’s houses themselves that people are purchasing, whether it’s townhouses, condos or even apartments. It’s not enough for the number of people in West Michigan,” Bitely said during his interview. “And again, while we continue to have jobs and the pay is decent, you have to have some place to live. So, rents are going up because people, they can’t find enough homes in the price ranges that make sense.”

Subsequently, people are forced to rent, which only increases demand in that market, Bitely added.

In July, RentCafe ranked Grand Rapids at the sixth most competitive rental market of 2022, higher than major cities like Milwaukee (ninth), suburban Chicago (15th) and suburban Philadelphia (17th).

“There are people that make their budget work at say 40 percent of their income, and they’re forced to rent because they can’t get a mortgage at that,” Bitely said. “That’s not necessarily a bad thing. If we get that too high then we have delinquencies and a lot of problems that we’ve long ago learned is a bad thing. But, at the same token when we don’t have enough affordable housing for people to buy it forces them to be renters.”

Bitely added that builders, like himself, have not been able to build their way out of this crisis. Bitely, who’s been a part of the industry for 30 years, has been trying to combat this problem. Last summer, local residents voted down his plan to build 70 homes in Sparta.

“It’s extremely frustrating. The first thing that happens in these types of meetings is I’m labeled as a developer, ‘I’m only here to make money,’” Bitely told FOX 17. “Yeah, that’s what I do for a living. But on the same token my passion to supply workforce housing or the needed somewhat affordable homes for those people just goes on deaf ears. And it’s, it’s really sad.”

Bitely said their decision, though, has real consequences.

“The same people that are outraged that there was going to be a neighborhood are the same ones that are complaining that we’re having a hard time fielding our football team and [asking] why are we playing Class-D schools,” Bitely said. “It didn’t use to be this way.”

Bitely encourages new potential home buyers and renters to do their own research. However, he believes the path forward is for them and others to “speak up,” meaning write letters and make phone calls to local and state government officials and lawmakers about the crisis and its impact, FOX 17 reported.

Nevertheless, he reiterated that the housing crisis will get worse before it gets better.

“Be prepared for higher rents,” Bitely said. “Be prepared for a shortage of housing. This cannot be changed by the builders anymore because it’s been regulated beyond our ability to work within that.”

Watch the full interview, here.