My House Ministry’s Board Member, Scott Sterenburg, shares his experience and expertise about the housing crisis happening in West Michigan. We are thankful for people like Scott and the many organizations fighting to help people struggling with housing.


Housing in Holland MI.

Toy house and calculator on table close-up; Shutterstock ID 200470286

Yet another man was in my office today, trying to get leads on housing. He has been living in the same apartment near our church for several years. His daughter, a single mom of 3, lost her housing and has been living with the couple. Now the landlord has informed them their rent will be increasing $150 a month. The landlord had recently updated the other side of their duplex and knows he could get this rent increase. The family had originally had a lease, but when the lease expired, it became a month-to-month agreement. The family had difficulty paying the rent before, now they can’t find a similar apartment in their price range.

Have you noticed the change in Holland’s real estate market? If you have tried to move, whether buying or renting, you certainly have. A shortage of housing has lead to increased prices. Housing costs have increased about 20% in sale prices and 23% in the rental market. At the same time, wages have remained relatively flat. As housing prices go up, it has a disproportionate effect on those at lower income levels.

As of August 2017, average rent for an apartment in Holland, MI is $901,which is a 6.44% increase from last year when the average rent was $843. One bedroom apartments in Holland rent for $809 a month on average (a 4.57% increase from last year), and two bedroom apartment rents average $903 (a 1.66% increase from last year).

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The Holland/Zeeland area does have jobs available. People are able to work. Employers and Temp Agencies are working to fill positions constantly. The issue is that many of these entry-level positions don’t pay enough for the cost of living in Holland’s constantly increasing housing market. It isn’t just entry-level employees either. It’s not just those we think of as the “typical poor” who are struggling. Many college graduates find themselves priced out of the market when factoring in the ever-increasing amount of student debt young men and women carry at graduation.

Many of us frankly haven’t been aware of this issue. I confess, I wasn’t until beginning my current job. When I look at the data, it just doesn’t seem possible, but the research, and the personal stories I hear every day, confirm it.

One of the hardest hit demographics in the Holland/Zeeland area is the ALICE population. ALICE stands for Asset Limited, Income Constrained, and Employed. These are the people working in restaurants, health care, and other lower income positions. Simply put, people who are working, but not earning enough for basic necessities in a given area.

The ALICE population is much higher in Holland and Zeeland than you probably expect. In Holland City, 43% of the population, or 8,620 families live under the ALICE threshold. In Zeeland it is an astonishing 47%! This means that families living and working in Holland/Zeeland need to spend a much higher percentage of their income on housing. Worst case, it means safe, stable housing is out of reach for more and more families each month.

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Additional factors such as the elderly, single parent families, a court record, or a previous eviction or history of late payments may completely eliminate your chance of securing housing.

Recently, while trying to help a member, we contacted about 10 local apartment complexes. The waiting lists for market-rate apartments in Holland averages two years and for income based housing (paying a percentage of income) the wait lists topped five years. And this is if you don’t have any of the other factors (credit issues, criminal record) against you.

Even those who qualify for housing support can’t find the housing they need. “Ottawa County has financial assistance available to eligible households, but this money is going unspent in our county because families cannot locate affordable units. In some cases, families who want to stay in Ottawa County are having to leave in order to take advantage of the benefit of a housing voucher. Households are forced to disrupt children in school and leave jobs in Ottawa County.” –Linda Jacobs, Executive Director, Good Samaritan Ministries

There are certainly no easy answers here. There is no one party responsible. Landlords, employers, builders, non-profits, and churches/community organizations need to get involved and work together towards a solution. We can all find a way to help; some in big ways and some in small ways. We all can and should stay educated on this issue affecting almost ½ our community.

Scott Sterenberg
Missions Director
Cavalry Holland