Alumni Profile: Ryan VerWys (Los Angeles 2003)

Posted by: Gerald Bell (Kansas City 2003) | March 19, 2020

DeVos Urban Leadership Initiative

Tell us about your ministry and how you fulfill its mission.

Inner City Christian Federation (ICCF) is a community development ministry committed to the following mission: Equitable Opportunity, Affordable Homes, and Thriving Neighborhoods. We hope to fulfill this by providing respectful welcoming to families facing homelessness at our Family Haven shelter and by providing restorative personal development opportunities to our neighbors through financial capabilities and homeownership classes. In addition, we preserve and construct mixed-income housing that ensures low-income households have available homes they can afford.

Why do you think God has called you to this work?

God has called me to personally be a part of the work of inspiring and mobilizing the body of Christ to engage in advancing shalom in the communities where we are rooted. ICCF serves as a means by which the church in Grand Rapids, Michigan, can work to address historic housing injustices and demonstrate Christ’s love to our neighbors by meeting their basic human need for housing.

What do you hope to accomplish while you serve in this capacity?

When my time as a leader at ICCF ends, I hope I will have stewarded this season of ICCF’s organizational life well, and that we will have moved the needle toward housing justice in our community. It fits my passions and personal calling so well, and I love the work I get to be a part of every day!

What challenges has ICCF had to overcome?

Home prices and rents in our community have risen exponentially over the last 10 years. As a result, working families in the city of Grand Rapids are facing significant housing instability. In 2017, in a leap of faith, ICCF bought over 200 homes from an absentee landlord who hadn’t been caring well for his tenants with the goal of preserving affordable housing. Our long-term vision is to sell 50 percent of these homes to low-income households, providing them with a pathway to homeownership that doesn’t exist in our housing market today. Also, the Community Homes Initiative (CHI), a program for renewing and restoring homes to families in our neighborhood, has been a significant challenge. We’ve had to manage substantial institutional growth and change while building supportive relationships with tenants and renovating 100 of the homes in a short timeframe.  

What are you most proud of that the ministry has accomplished?

I am proud of the fact that during the past five years we went from providing 160 units of affordable rental housing to over 500 units to underserved famile, with another 150 homes planned in the next two years. This kind of faith-rooted growth has served as a profound witness in our community as it demonstrates the love of Christ to families facing housing challenges.

What collaborative opportunities are benefiting ICCF?

IICCF takes an asset-based community development approach to our work. One good example of this principle is ICCF’s partnership with the Center for Community Transformation (CTT) to provide housing for homeless youth. ICCF opened 17 permanent supportive housing units for formerly homeless youth ages 18 to 24 within our brand new Steepleview Apartments development. CTT has a long history of providing support for youth in our community through education, job readiness, and social enterprise. It’s a textbook example of two organizations working collaboratively; we bring expertise in housing development and property management, and CTT offers their supportive youth services. 

Can you name one learning principle from your DVULI training that is being applied to your work?   

I see the value of interdependence at play in our current collaboration to restore the long-abandoned Kent County Social Services building. Madison Church, a congregation with a generations-long commitment to the ministry of presence in its neighborhood, received the blighted building as a donation in 2015. They invited ICCF to utilize our development expertise to collaborate on a creative renovation of the structure that will result in a transformational center for holistic ministry. By the end of 2020, the renovation will be complete and will house ICCF’s offices. The building will provide 40 affordable apartments, early childhood educational services for low-income families in the community, and a congregational worship center.

What can your DVULI family be praying for as you move forward?

Please pray that ICCF will continue to see growing support and volunteerism from local congregations for restoring homes in the Community Homes Initiative.