Ryan VerWys can describe the work of Inner City Christian Federation (ICCF) in one sentence. “We’re making places for people to come home to,” he says proudly. In a city where affordable housing is in short supply, where children leaving foster care struggle to obtain adequate employment and housing, and where the injustices of discriminatory housing practices echo, Ryan knows it takes people from every neighborhood and organizations from every sector to achieve ICCF’s vision. As executive director of ICCF, he is undaunted. “I bring a perspective of abundance, not scarcity,” says Ryan, with contagious optimism. ICCF was founded in 1974 by Grand Rapids area churches that wanted to address big housing issues and a shortage of affordable homes that was largely the result of discriminatory housing and lending policies of the 20th century. The work began with a single, donated house in the southeast neighborhood of Baxter, which ICCF renovated and sold to a low-income buyer. In the years since, ICCF has repeated that process on more than 400 homes. The organization has taken on other meaningful projects as well, including construction of mixed-income and mixed-use developments, management of more than 160 affordable rental units, and emergency shelter for families experiencing homelessness. High quality wrap-around services help assure the success of its clients. ICCF staff walk alongside them, as Ryan describes it, to support, mentor and equip individuals and families with classes on money management, maintenance and home ownership. Further, its properties are designed to complement the architectural character of the neighborhood, inspire neighborhood pride and include sustainable design to maximize energy efficiency and long-term affordability.
In all, ICCF works with more than 2,200 low-to-moderate income families in the Grand Rapids area each year, thanks, in large part, to developers and philanthropic organizations Ryan and his team engages to create sustainable housing solutions. While ICCF is a faith-based organization, all are welcome. The organization mobilizes its values by convening and connecting with the many parties it takes to address the complexity of affordable housing needs in greater Grand Rapids. A notable example unfolded during the summer of 2017. ICCF led a collaborative effort among local lending institutions, foundations and non-profit community partners to study the feasibility and to purchase a portfolio of 177 market-rate rental properties scattered throughout the Grand Rapids and Lansing area, from an absentee investor. Over the next three years, ICCF will transfer ownership of the 38 Lansing-area properties to a place-based nonprofit housing partner and convert 90 percent of the remaining Grand Rapids area properties to low and moderate-income home ownership and rentals. This was a significant undertaking by ICCF and is expected to have lasting positive effects on the affordable housing supply for low-income residents as well as the community’s capacity to seize strategic opportunities, together. “We believe this community can be a place for opportunity for everyone, and that’s the work we need to do together” says Ryan.