A key housing organization says Kalamazoo POD community will not happen in time for winter

Winter is setting in. The construction season is winding down. And no site has been found for the development of Kalamazoo’s much-anticipated POD Community.
That community of small shelters, with POD standing for “Place of Dignity,” is expected to provide a safe and transitional place for the many unhoused members of the Kalamazoo community. But Housing Resources Inc. says the temporary housing units that it acquired in 2021 will not be assembled and made available for use this cold season.
“That path forward will require many weeks of work and review,” HRI announced in a prepared statement Tuesday, Oct. 24, 2023. “Unfortunately, we’re reaching the end of the construction season. This means, sadly, the POD units will not be assembled and running before winter.”
This is a look at the interior of a two-person ModPod modular housing unit.Housing Resources Inc., which is spearheading the development, acknowledged that the need for safe housing for unhoused people is huge. And said it is “important that this be done in the right way for everyone involved.”
Michelle Davis, executive director of HRI, announced plans in October of 2021 to establish a community to replace the make-shift encampments of tents, wooden pallets, and cardboard boxes that had sprung up near downtown Kalamazoo. Called “A Kzoo POD Community: A Place of Dignity,” the new site would use small one- and two-person modular housing units that can be heated in the winter and cooled in the summer. The site is to have separate restrooms and showers, trash collection and pickup service, and 24/7 onsite staff and security “to keep clients safe and help them develop pathways to stable housing,” according to HRI.
Although efforts were not successful Tuesday to reach Davis for comment, her organization stated that it has evaluated many locations in Kalamazoo County where this POD Community could be placed, but “so far, none proved feasible.”
HRI spent about $1 million to purchase 50 modular housing units, which are 8’ by 8’ by 8’ and 16' by 8' by 8'. Called ModPods, they are fire-resistant with aluminum framing, insulated walls, and an aluminum composite exterior. They have been in storage since the first potential location, the vacant former Michigan Department of Human Services property at 322 E. Stockbridge Ave., was ruled out.
Kalamazoo Mayor David Anderson says he is disappointed that the POD community will take more time to realize. He says he knows a lot of things need to happen, and agreements need to be made before HRI can announce that the project is moving ahead.
“This is development, just like any development,” he says, “whether you’re looking for a site to build a building or a site to put pods on. It’s the same basic process. You need to see what’s available and get site control while you work on other issues and that sort of thing.”
This is a look at the interior of a two-person ModPod modular housing unit.He says it is unwise to publicize the steps of that process until you have some sort of site control and until other in-house work is done.
At the same time, Anderson, who is also director of Housing and Facilities for Integrated Services of Kalamazoo, says he knows the number of unhoused people is growing. “Our outreach team is seeing a lot of new faces,’ he says.
In its announcement, HRI says, “The need is huge.” It says more people are experiencing homelessness and housing shortages are at historic levels. During the first half of 2023, it worked with 216 unsheltered people. Of those, more than half were women, and only 45 were in a program that provided them with temporary shelter or housing. Others were waiting for help.
HRI praised the leadership of the Kalamazoo City Commission, members of the Kalamazoo City staff, and others in updating and extending the city’s Emergency Housing Ordinance. Among other things, it is expected to allow developers to work with the city to create temporary housing for those in need.

The Ordinance, which was set to expire in December of this year, was extended for five years and one additional winter. It allows for the development of temporary housing in the city and it sets the parameters for its development. Housing providers are responsible for proposing locations, applying for permits, and hosting a public informational meeting before they start the project.

Finding a suitable location to develop housing that serves the needs of unhoused people -- who are often located near the downtown -- is not an easy task. 
Anderson says he would like to see a more county-wide approach to helping the unhoused, one that recognizes there are unhoused people living in many outlying communities.

In the meantime, he says, “I think the city, to the best of its ability, is trying to be a good partner when it comes to making the opportunities available for folks.”
He praised HRI for stepping up to take advantage of the opportunity.

This story is part of Southwest Michigan Second Wave's series on solutions to affordable housing and housing the unhoused. It is made possible by a coalition of funders including Kalamazoo County, the ENNA Foundation, and the Kalamazoo County Land Bank.

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Read more articles by Al Jones.

Al Jones is a freelance writer who has worked for many years as a reporter, editor, and columnist. He is the Project Editor for On the Ground Kalamazoo.