Galilee Baptist Church clears the way for $7M housing development on Kalamazoo’s Northside

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.

KALAMAZOO, MI – Members of Galilee Baptist Church see a growing need for more affordable housing to stabilize and improve the lives of people in need.
They see it in the faces of homeless people who ask for help outside the doors of the church at 1216 N. Westnedge Ave., says Rev. Michael T. Scott Sr. And they see it in the interactions they have with financially struggling families and individuals in Kalamazoo’s Northside neighborhood and elsewhere.
“Being a neighborhood church, being a Northside church, a lot of people rely upon the larger churches for assistance, support, and resources,” says Scott who is senior pastor at the 1,500-member Galilee Baptist Church. “On any given day throughout the week, we have people who are dealing with housing challenges or housing insecurities. They’re on the front steps of the church asking for help, asking for assistance. And we have seen an increase in this.”
Rev. Michael T. Scott Sr. Is pastor of Galilee Baptist Church in Kalamazoo.He says that led church members to ask, “What can we do to do our part?”
So they are laying the groundwork to build more housing across the street from the church’s longtime location, with hopes of breaking ground later this year on two large apartment buildings that will use more than half of the land in the 1100- to 1200-block of North Westnedge Avenue, across from the church. The estimated cost of the project is $7 million.
Galilee purchased the property, the former location of the North Westnedge Church of Christ, in 2021. That Church of Christ has relocated to 2705 Virginia Ave. It is now the Virginia Avenue Church of Christ.
“The goal is to do two apartment complexes that are mixed-use,” Scott says, referring to a combination of residential and retail uses. “They would (each) include three stories. The first level would be retail. We wanted to create an opportunity for businesses on the Northside — like daycare or a beauty salon, or what have you, on those first levels — so the residents would be able to take advantage of those services. Levels two and three would be apartments.”
This artist's rendering shows Galilee Baptist Church’s proposed apartment complex on Westnedge Avenue at Elizabeth Street.The site will include parking, green space, and a playground area for children, he says. A second phase of the development, on adjacent land parcels owned by Galilee to the west of the proposed apartments, would include single-family housing, perhaps as duplex structures.
The focus is on the needs of lower-income people, Scott says, “So it will meet the needs of area residents. That was our concern. We don’t want it to be unaffordable.”
He says the board of the church’s nonprofit organization, Counting To One Ministries, is working to craft plans that will allow the property to be affordable to low-income families and individuals. It has not yet decided how many apartment units will be available in each building, or what city, state, and federal resources it may try to tap to offset construction costs and make the development financially viable.
“The plan is to do affordable housing,” Scott says. “This is a conversation that Galilee has been having because of the need that we see in our city, particularly on the North Side.”
He says the conversation started a few years ago with Galilee considering the property purchase to help the Church of Christ, which was downsizing. The conversation evolved as Galilee wanted to influence who its neighbors would be and control the future development of that nearby property.
“Thirdly, we started having conversations about affordable housing with our congregation,” Scott says. The church set aside plans to expand its base facilities at 1216 N. Westnedge. Its members hope to build additional space for recreation, banquets, meetings, and other events.
This artist's rendering shows Galilee Baptist Church’s two proposed apartment buildings (with ground-floor commercial space) looking north from the intersection of Westnedge Avenue and Elizabeth Street.“Our original plan was to build onto our church a gym for youth,” Scott says. “But because of the need for affordable housing, we have postponed those building plans to focus on 1101 N. Westnedge, which is the facility that was demolished.”
The North Westnedge Church of Christ building, which reportedly dated back to 1929 and opened as the Third Reformed Church, was demolished in January 2024. The location became home to the North Westnedge Church of Christ in 1979.
Matt Hollander, whose family-owned property development company has built hundreds of housing units across the state, is a proponent of affordable housing. But “affordable” is relative to how much people earn, he says, as well as the target market a housing developer is trying to serve.
As passed down by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development over many years through incentivized federal programs, “affordable” equates to housing that requires 30 percent or less of a person’s annual income. Individuals and families who spend more than that on their housing and related costs are considered "housing overburdened." 

When people talk about a teacher or firefighter or school custodian who are working full-time but still paying more than 30 percent of their income for housing, Hollander says, "They are housing overburdened."

Based on a recent study, he says, "They share that situation with a growing population of people across the United States." According to the Joint Center for Housing Studies of Harvard University, he says, "We're now at a point where over half of the renters across the United States are paying more than 30 percent of their income toward housing. If you flip that around -- over half of all renters don't have access to affordable housing. And a growing portion of people are extremely housing overburdened, which means they are paying more than half of their income toward housing expenses."

Hollander says the standard that federal and state authorities use to determine affordability is Area Median Income. For Kalamazoo County that considers the annual earnings of residents of Kalamazoo, Portage, and other parts of the county that are significantly higher than the urban core.

“But what’s affordable in the Kalamazoo/Portage Metropolitan Statistical Area may or may not be affordable to the average renter in Kalamazoo,” says Hollander, who is president and chief executive officer of Hollander Development Corp. “So there’s a disconnect there. That can be frustrating to a lot of folks.”
Rental housing for working people in Kalamazoo County, for example, is considered affordable if it is 60 to 80 percent of the Area Median Income. But Hollander suggests that a lower rate has to be used for new housing to be considered affordable for people in the extremely low-income levels in some parts of the City of Kalamazoo.

Some of Hollander’s developments use an extremely low AMI rate — 30 percent of AMI.
All that considered, a small apartment rented by someone making 80 percent of the Area Median Income ($32,000) for instance, may be considered affordable at $800 per month. But the same unit would have to be rented for about $450 per month to be affordable for someone at 30 percent of AMI (earning $18,000 per year).
Hollander says the use of federal Low-Income Housing Tax Credits has been the main long-term financial resource to help developers build affordable housing for extremely low-income individuals and families. Fifteen of the 48 apartments in The Creamery housing complex that his firm developed a few years ago in the Edison Neighborhood are “affordable” for people at or below 30 percent of AMI. They are 750-square-foot, one-bedroom units that rent for $450 per month.
Large equipment was used to demolish the former location of North Westnedge Church of Christ at 1101 N. Westnedge Ave.
Of state and federal resources, Rev. Scott says, “Basically we are at a point where we’re still discussing whether we’re going to go that route, as far as the tax credits, or whether we’re going to fund it a different way. … But hopefully, soon we’ll have some answers in that regard.”
Scott says the planning process for Galilee’s project will involve the Counting To One board working with the architectural, engineering, and design firm Abonmarche Byce, reporting back to the church leadership, and then reporting to the church congregation. The church then wants to get feedback from the wider community.
“So it’s a slow process because we’re involving everyone,” Scott says. “We definitely want the community involved in this. So that’s why it’s kind of been slow.”
He says it has taken about two years to get to where things stand now. But he says, “We’re excited.”
Members of Galilee Baptist Church, which will celebrate its 66th anniversary in April, have been involved in feeding people who are hungry and living in tents and encampments around the city.
“We just kind of felt rather than just feeding people, how about creating an atmosphere where they can be productive citizens and have a place for them to stay with their families?” Scott asks. “And … have an opportunity to get on their feet.”
He says, “We know churches are usually not involved in development, and churches are usually not in this sector. But coming out of the pandemic, we have a renewed vision for transformation in our community and that’s why we are doing this.”
A demolition crew works to tear down the bell tower of the former North Westnedge Church of Christ on Jan. 18, 2023 in Kalamazoo.
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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.