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Muskegon organization to build affordable homes on vacant lots through pilot program

Posted at 10:42 PM, Feb 23, 2021
and last updated 2021-02-23 23:20:56-05

MUSKEGON, Mich. — Families moving into the homes included in a new affordable housing program in downtown Muskegon will receive help paying for them thanks to one of the organization’s former board members.

“It’s a multi-phased, in-fill, new construction project,” said Sarah Rinsema-Sybenga, executive director of Community enCompass.

This spring, Community enCompass will begin building three single-family homes on vacant, city-owned lots at 1259 Sanford St., 1095 First St., and 1141 Jefferson St.

The initiative is called the enCompass Affordable Community Housing (E.A.C.H) Project and aims to create affordable options within the city’s core neighborhoods. The next phase would develop two duplexes and another house.

Rinsema-Sybenga says E.A.C.H is the result of a lack of new and/or budget-friendly builds the last 30 years.

“E.A.C.H is really a response to a couple of different things,” said Rinsema-Sybenga. “First of all just there’s a lot of vacant property in Muskegon, and a lot of the homes that do exist in the core city neighborhoods are older homes. The other thing is there’s been kind of a dearth of new construction that has happened over the last 30 years or more in Muskegon, but that’s really changing over the last three years or so. The City of Muskegon has done a lot to attract new development for Muskegon, but what is available to buy is at a price point for higher income markets. So they’re high-income homes, and they’re not really affordable for younger or low-income buyers. E.A.C.H is really just an attempt to kind of balance that.”

Muskegon City Commission approved the project in December 2020.

It’s estimated to cost $570,000. The city allocated the use of $250,000 of federal housing funding and Community enCompass is paying $320,000. Commissioners also approved a Brownfield designation, which allows the city to use property taxes collected from the lots it sold as part of the subsidy for the project.

The goal is to sell the homes for $150,000.

Families must make 80 percent or below the median income to qualify, which is $50,854 in Muskegon County according to U.S. Census data.

Community enCompass is working with a mortgage company to find those buyers. Potential families will work to fix their credit scores and go through home-ownership classes.

However, the help won’t stop there.

“She was on our board; she was a realtor; she’s a neighbor,” said Rinsema-Sybenga, when talking about Mary Jamieson. “So committed to downtown Muskegon; was excited and showing properties in Muskegon way before it was cool.”

Jamieson was a long-time Community enCompass member, joining the organization 10-15 years ago according to Rinsema-Sybenga. She helped sell properties for the organization and donated back any commission she made.

In February, Jamieson died of cancer.

In her honor, Community enCompass created a down payment assistance program, using the commission Jamieson donated the last 10 years to establish the fund.

“They can bring more money to the table to buy down that mortgage and decrease that interest rate and their monthly payments,” said Rinsema-Sybenga.

“She simply wanted our neighborhood to be better,” said John Jamieson, Mary’s husband.

John says the fund touched his wife in her final days and hopes it touches those who receive a home. The Jamiesons own a home within the city’s core neighborhoods, and John says he looks forward to meeting his new neighbors.

“I’m going to go on living here,” said Jamieson. “I’m not leaving, and so, everything that helps the neighborhood is good.”

Community enCompass hopes to continue the project for the next several years.

They expect families part of “phase one” to be moved in by the end of the year.

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