Vibrant Neighborhoods: Creating a Magnetic West Michigan

Celebrating 85 Years and $100 Million in Grantmaking

Throughout this year, Grand Rapids Community Foundation is celebrating two great milestones—85 years in this community and $100 million in grant awards. As part of the celebration, we’re continuing to explore grantmaking impact in our six priority areas: health, economic prosperity, academic achievement, healthy ecosystems, social enrichment and, finally, vibrant neighborhoods.

The Community Foundation supports safe, attractive and self-sufficient neighborhood communities of residences and businesses. This includes working to expand and sustain home ownership opportunities; supporting affordable, quality housing options; fostering resident involvement in neighborhoods; and promoting viable business districts and city neighborhoods that are diverse in income, race, ethnicity and age.

The Community Foundation began supporting neighborhood development projects in the late 1960s, and interest in this funding area has steadily grown. Neighborhood development programs accounted for 17 percent of our grants in 2006.

“Evidence of the work we’ve done to create vibrant neighborhoods is seen throughout Grand Rapids. In this particular funding area, we’ve successfully leveraged our grant dollars by working with government entities, the philanthropic sector and other local nonprofits,” said Laurie Craft, a Community Foundation program director. “From facade improvements in business districts to housing for the underserved, the work we’ve done has helped to make Grand Rapids, especially the central city, a more desirable place to work and live.”

Providing a place to call home

For years, the Community Foundation has supported Dwelling Place in its work to provide quality housing, essential support services and neighborhood revitalization. The Community Foundation made one of the largest grants in its history—$600,000—to Dwelling Place for its Ferguson Renaissance Center project.

Located in the downtown Heartside neighborhood, the former five-story Ferguson Hospital was renovated as part of a plan to rid the area of vacant buildings, prostitution and crime. The Ferguson has evolved into 101 studio apartments to house formerly homeless people who have disabilities.

“The Ferguson is still seen as one of the most effective collaborations in Grand Rapids and across the state, with several organizations joining in this effort to expand service capacity and provide permanent housing for homeless and disabled individuals,” said Dennis Sturtevant, Dwelling Place chief executive officer.

Dennis says the Community Foundation has greatly impacted the Heartside quality of life. “Community Foundation investments have enhanced economic development and physical improvements. They have also built human assets related to education, child care, alleviation of poverty and services to vulnerable populations,” Dennis said.

The Community Foundation was among the first to invest in Lighthouse Communities. Since 2002, Lighthouse has completed over $25,000,000 in development and renovated over 400 housing units, providing affordable housing to those in need.

A 2005 grant helped Lighthouse fund its Healthy Neighborhoods Initiative to revitalize four central Grand Rapids neighborhoods. Lighthouse used its Community Foundation grant to leverage a startup grant from Local Initiative Support Corporation, block grant funds from the City of Grand Rapids and Michigan State Housing Development Authority (MSHDA) funds for housing development.

“The Community Foundation’s incredible innovation and foresight in supporting and helping to establish the Healthy Neighborhoods Initiative has resulted in a significant structural change in the way the City of Grand Rapids Office of Housing and Community Development provide funding to neighborhoods,” said Dave Allen, Lighthouse Communities executive director.

Supporting innovative and sustainable development

The Community Foundation has provided startup funds for 12 local neighborhood associations. East Hills Council of Neighbors combined Community Foundation funds with other funding sources to create something truly unique.

In 2002, the Community Foundation took a risk and awarded a $40,000 grant to East Hills Council of Neighbors for their East Hills Center project. This grant came from our Commercial and Economic Development Fund—a pass through fund from MSHDA to support commercial and economic development in areas where MSHDA has supported residential rehabilitation. The lot on Lake Drive SE, which had been vacant and polluted by a former gas station, is now the bustling East Hills Center (of the universe)—a LEED-certified retail development.

“The Community Foundation grant was the catalyst that fostered the partnership with Bazzani Associates to create the East Hills Center. The Community Foundation invested in a brownfield site to promote sustainable urban infill in a historic district. Their innovative approach helped create the first new construction in East Hills in more than 50 years. Today, the East Hills Center is a model of sustainable development in a historic district,” said Guy Bazzani, president of Bazzani Associates.

With vibrant neighborhoods, Grand Rapids becomes a vibrant community. The Community Foundation will continue its grantmaking priority for engaged neighborhoods and innovative development.