Joe Jones, Grand Rapids 2nd Ward Commissioner

A Full Circle Conversation – The Future of Housing Innovation!

So, we’re back in Grand Rapids, Michigan from the REALTORS® Convention in Boston! Arguably, one of the most debated and talked about topics this year was the subject of housing affordability and the innovation that will be required to create solutions to a national housing stock shortage.

On Sunday evening, I attended a Learning Lab in Grandville, MI (a suburb of Grand Rapids, Michigan) and incredibly, the topic was Housing Affordability! This issue is hitting middle America hard. The panel for the program consisted of a local charity that is fighting homelessness, an organization that works with homeless youth, and the Urban League.

One of the more surprising pieces of information for me was the changing nature of the ‘situationally homeless’ here in my hometown. Many in the audience were surprised to find that in West Michigan, a surprising number of individuals who are having to live out of their cars or in community shelters were homeowners five or six years ago. It makes we wonder if we are in some ways still dealing with the delayed impact and implications of the housing crisis of the last decade?

There were many interesting takeaways from the NAR conference this year. Some of those pertinent to housing affordability and innovation are highlighted below:

  1. We are going to see a significant increase in new approaches to housing communities. These will include:
  • More mixed-use communities with different types/mixes of housing
  • New sub-divisions which are comprised exclusively of rental units
  • Tiny homes and living spaces will be viable options in the US marketplace
  • New construction models will be explored including innovations in modular homes
  • Zoning laws are and will be changed to allow for modifications in existing homes and the design of new construction.
  1. Housing affordability will drive economic growth in the future. Workforce development, retention, and attraction are important challenges for industry and commercial investment today. Communities which provide better options and affordability for America’s workers will increasingly drive the investment decisions for business and industry. We are all watching the unfolding story of Amazon’s process of selecting a new headquarters being driven in part by consideration for the housing affordability for its workforce. While this is not entirely new, what is different is the intentionality with which this conversation is being engaged by a major company.
  2. There will be changes and challenges to the regulatory requirements for building construction and Planned Unit Developments (PUD’s). This will include re-thinking the use of public land and changes in zoning requirements. Housing is becoming a “citizen issue” as the conversation evolves beyond private homeownership rights to re-thinking the notion of shelter/housing as a human right.

Interestingly, access to transportation has created a housing challenge for rural communities which have land but inadequate public transportation infrastructure to support the needs of the workforce. During the Learning Lab I attended in Grand Rapids, it was noted that companies are now having to create private transportation options (including Uber) to get their employees to work! The highway system which was designed to accommodate the automobile needs to be adjusted to a more robust model which includes the possibility of less single ownership of cars. Amazing, but a real possibility!

  1. Lastly, there is also a significant body of research emerging that links housing insecurity to increases in mental and emotional instability within children and adults. Healthy communities will be defined within a broader context than is generally considered today.


All these issues represent an interesting opportunity and challenge to the National Association of REALTORS®. We have traditionally upheld private ownership rights but are increasingly aware of the importance of advocating with the consumer not just for the consumer. Perhaps, this unprecedented national crisis in housing affordability will serve as a spark to propel two parallel tracks (home ownership and community development) to merge into a mighty force for social justice and beneficial change for many struggling communities across the United States.

7-Time Featured Attendee

Lola Audu is a first generation American. During the past 20 years as a REALTOR® and broker, she has had the pleasure of providing professional guidance during real estate transactions for people from all over the globe.

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