After years of planning, Eastside Square condominiums set to open in Kalamazoo

Editor's note: 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 the City of Kalamazoo, Kalamazoo County, the ENNA Foundation, and LISC.
KALAMAZOO, MI — New condominium units are part of the effort to develop more affordable housing in Kalamazoo’s Eastside Neighborhood.
“We have six, mixed-income, two-bedroom condos and 1,800 square feet of commercial space,” says Sydney Ellis, executive director of the Kalamazoo County Land Bank, the county's property-repurposing agency that has been working with the Kalamazoo Eastside Neighborhood Association and others to provide much-needed residential opportunities.
Fran DwightSydney Ellis, of the Kalamazoo County Land Bank, shakes hands on Tuesday, June 25, 2024 with Land Bank Chairman Thomas Whitener at the ribbon-cutting ceremony for the Eastside Square Condominiums.“The condos are complete and ready to move in,” Ellis says, magnifying comments he made during a ceremonial ribbon-cutting on Tuesday, June 25, 2024, at the Eastside Square Condominiums, 1601 E. Main St. “We will start marketing very soon. I think within the next week or two.”
The residential development has six energy-efficient units, each with two bedrooms and two bathrooms. The largest unit is about 1,211 square feet and the smallest is about 997 square feet. Commercial space is available on the ground level of the two-story building and may accommodate one or two organizations or businesses. No commercial tenant has been announced.
Of the commercial space and how area residents have said they want it to be used, Ellis says, “We’re looking for anything that’s a gathering place. And that could be defined as various things. But … not just a place where you buy something and then leave. (They want) a place to come sit down and eat, or hang out, listen to some music, or what have you.”

The property that was dedicated on Tuesday is part of a total $6 million project that is expected to include two additional condo buildings on the opposite side of the 1600 block of East Main Street, adjacent to the Eastside Sunrise Plaza (at the corner of Main Street and Hazard Avenue). They are expected to offer a total of six additional residential units, some in a three-story structure and others in a two-story structure.
Al JonesA second phase of development for the Eastside Square Condominiums is expected in the 1600 block of east Main Street, utilizing space adjacent to the Eastside Sunrise Plaza at the corner of Main Street and Hazard Avenue.Like the Eastside Square Condominiums, the Phase 2 structures are expected to have room for one or more commercial tenants in ground-floor spaces. Rob Peterson, who is working to fill the commercial space, says, “They’re hoping to find somebody preferably from the neighborhood. But in the end, they’d like to have a restaurant, a coffee shop, a sandwich shop, something that’s unique to the area so it actually brings people to the Eastside community.”
Fran DwightRob Peterson, of Dover Birch & Associates, talks with visitors about the commercial space inside the new Eastside Square Condominiums.Peterson is a real estate broker and owner of Dover Birch & Associates.
Planning for the entire project began in 2019 and was significantly slowed by the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, as well as a dramatic rise in the cost of construction materials since then. But Thomas Whitener, chairman of the Kalamazoo County Land Bank and treasurer of Kalamazoo County, says, “We have continued to haul this thing toward the finish line.”
“The number increased every year,” he says of the cost of the first phase of the development. “In 2019, the estimated cost for the build was somewhere in the $900,000s. And I am sure that it more than doubled because of the cost of construction, the costs of materials, and everything that sort of chased us through the pandemic.”
Fran DwightKalamazoo Mayor David Anderson, left, and Project Manager Ryan Vlietstra center, talk while inside the open commercial space at Eastside Square Condominiums.Of the next phase, he says, “We’ve got more to do on this project for Eastside Square and we’re looking forward to pushing that in the next two years.”
Ellis says the units are intended to be affordable for working people. Two are to be sold to a family or individuals whose annual income is 60 percent or less of Kalamazoo County’s Area Median Income. Two are intended for those with an annual income of 80 percent or less of the AMI. And two are slated for those who earn up to 120 percent of AMI.

What is the Area Median Income? 

AMI is a metric, defined by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, that shows where an income-earning individual or family stands economically in their area. If someone has an AMI below 80%, HUD defines them as low-income. They are very low income below 50%, and extremely low at or below 30%.

Fran DwightSeveral community leaders beside residence attended the Tuesday, June 25, 2024 ribbon cutting ceremony for the Eastside Square Condominiums.People at 100% AMI are middle-income -— in the middle of the range between low and high-income earners in a specific area. In Kalamazoo, "for a family of four, 100% of area median income is $100,800," says Mary Balkema, Kalamazoo County Housing Director.
“I think that it is a wonderful addition to what’s available as far as housing in the Eastside Neighborhood,” says Twala Lockett-Jones, owner of the Lockett-Jones Realty Group, the real estate company representing the condominiums.
Fran DwightRealtor Twala Lockett-Jones joined Sydney Ellis and many others for the Tuesday, June 25, 2024 opening of the Eastside Square Condominiums.She says she does not expect any of the units to cost qualified families more than $145,000. Aside from that, “Having condominiums as a housing option is a great way for individuals to be able to become homebuyers,” she says.
Speaking of how prospective residents will qualify to live in the Eastside Square Condominiums, Lockett-Jones says, “Because everybody’s situation is going to be different based on their family size, their income, their current monthly expenses, each is going to be unique.”
Interested parties may contact the Kalamazoo County Land Bank or her at tlockettjones@gmail.com
She expects a homeowners association at Eastside Square Condominiums to benefit new owners. The association will handle the exterior care of the units as well as day-to-day maintenance, including trash collection and groundskeeping.

Fran DwightHere is a look inside on the new Eastside Square Condominiums.Monthly homeowner dues are expected to be about $113 per month, but she says she expects that to compare favorably to fees at other comparable condominiums (which charge about $250 per month).
James Jackson, vice president of the Kalamazoo Eastside Neighborhood Association and a Realtor with the Lockett-Jones Realty Group, says area residents should be happy about the development “because this is affordable housing” and “It’s about building and giving people opportunities.”
Fran DwightGerald King, an artist who participated in creating the Eastside Square pocket plaza, and James Jackson, president of the Kalamazoo Eastside Neighborhood Association board, were on hand to celebrate.About the new condos, Ellis says, “It’s an opportunity to help the Eastside community continue to build on what they’re trying to do, which is bringing homeownership, businesses, and gathering places back to the Eastside."
Fran DwightHere is a look inside on the new Eastside Square Condominiums.He and Whitener thanked several agencies and organizations that provided financial and professional support for the project, including the Stryker Johnston Foundation, the Irving S. Gilmore Foundation, Local Initiatives Support Corp., the City of Kalamazoo, Kalamazoo County, and the Land Bank itself, which contributed a significant portion of funding from its operating revenues.
Lockett-Jones says, “I’m just very excited to see more housing coming to Kalamazoo because it’s very much needed.”

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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.