Kalamazoo County OKs $6.2 million for affordable housing and assistance. Here's where it's going.

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.

Down-payment assistance is sometimes the one thing that helps a person of limited means buy a home of their own, says Beth McCann.
“In 2022, 107 new homeowners were made by coming through Kalamazoo Neighborhood Housing Services’ Home Buyers Education and Coaching Program,” says McCann, who is executive director of KNHS. “Of them, 58 percent received some kind of down-payment assistance. The average amount was $8,400.”
So she thanked the Kalamazoo County Board of Commissioners on Tuesday evening for approving additional assistance for supportive services through the new Kalamazoo County Housing Millage. The assistance included a $200,000 grant for KNHS to help provide people of limited means make a down payment.
“It truly is the missing piece of the puzzle sometimes for someone to reach their goal of owning a home and achieving the American dream of home ownership and just changing their lives,” says McCann. She was one of several organizational leaders and project developers to thank the board for approving more financial help to those trying to create more housing opportunities.
More of the money that tax-payers are contributing to increase access to affordable housing, and to improve Kalamazoo County’s housing stock, is being directed toward such goals, county officials say.
“I think the first year has been really, really good,” Kalamazoo County Housing Director Mary Balkema says of the Kalamazoo County’s new “Homes for All” Housing Millage and its funding allocations for 2022. “And now the second year is shaping up to be really good too.”
Kalamazoo County Housing Director Mary Balkema, left, stands with Portage Mayor Patricia Randall and Kalamazoo County Board Chairman John Taylor in front of a multi-unit project in Portage that is receiving money from the county’s new house in millagApproximately $6.7 million was earmarked for projects in the first round of funding, approved last year. That has helped support the development of 665 new housing units – many of which are still in the planning or construction phases.
In 2020, voters approved an eight-year housing millage that is expected to raise more than $50 million during that span. An August 2022 housing study indicates that the county needs at least 7,750 more housing units. And Balkema has said she hopes it will be able to reduce the number of needed housing units by half during the eight-year life of the millage.
Allocations have been made for multi-family housing projects and single-family housing projects as well as creative projects and home rehabilitation projects. For 2023 and beyond, the Kalamazoo County Board of Commissioners approved in May about $5 million in grants, loans, and financial resources. And on Tuesday evening, commissioners approved an additional $1.2 million for the development of more multi-family housing projects as well as services to support the improvement or maintenance of housing projects, downpayment assistance, utility assistance, and housing stability.
The amounts and projects approved for funding Tuesday include:
• $650,000 for the rehabilitation of the Coney Island Building at 266 E. Michigan Ave. in downtown Kalamazoo. The grant would help the development of 13 new apartment units on the upper floors of a building that was a hotel many years ago.

• $110,515 as a grant to support the Housing Stability Project at YWCA Kalamazoo.

• $75,000 for rent and utility support services at the Community Action Agency of Kalamazoo.

• $100,000 as a grant for housing down-payment assistance in the City of Portage.

• $75,000 for the Housing Navigator program of Kalamazoo Housing Advocates.

• $200,000 as a grant for housing down-payment assistance provided by Kalamazoo Neighborhood Housing Services.
Of the Coney Island Building project, Balkema said, “That project really needs to happen,”
Mark Lee, head of Better World Builders, right, explains to members of the Kalamazoo, County Board off Commissioners the positive impact of the home insulation work that his company is doing to help residents of Galesburg.It will be a full rehab of an old hotel and it will put to use a dilapidated building that is among a row of other buildings that have seen some improvement. Project developers asked for $950,000. At the end of the County Board’s approval process, it was allocated $650,000.
“It’s really hard when you have a whole row of buildings that are contiguous and this middle one is crumbling,” Balkema said.
On Tuesday commissioners completed their annual process for millage requests by approving conditional grant funding for two new multi-family housing projects (to come out of the 2024 Housing Millage budget). The grants are:
• $1 million to support River Caddis Development’s River’s Edge project, a 228-unit affordable/workforce housing development. It is to be located at the intersection of Harrison Street and Gull Road. The total cost of the project is $58 Million. Eighty percent of the units are to be designated for households making no more than 60 percent of the Area Median Income, and 20 percent are to be set aside for households making no more than 120 percent of AMI.

• $1 million to support LIFT Foundation’s New Affordable Rental Housing project at Hawthorne Park. It is expected to provide multiple affordable apartment units within walking distance of downtown Kalamazoo. The developer is to apply to MSHDA for tax credits in the Fall of 2023 and if successful, break ground in 2024.
The Board approved a forgivable deferred loan for a multi-family housing project (to come out of the 2023 Housing Millage budget). It is a $500,000 deferred loan to support the MDV Permanent Supportive Housing units on Duke Street. The 19-unit property will be used to provide housing for victims of human trafficking. They are expected to petition the City of Kalamazoo for a 4 percent PILOT, a payment in lieu of taxes. The YWCA will provide residents with supportive services to help families reunify, rebuild and transition to permanent housing.
The Board approved grant funding for five new single-family housing projects totaling $2,264,475:                  
• $1 million for the City of Portage’s new single-family housing on Portage/Stanley. The project also has been awarded $500,000 in American Rescue Plan Act dollars through the county, and $1 million in ARPA dollars through the City of Portage.

• $150,000 in gap funding for a newly built Humanity for Humanity property on a vacant parcel on Ramona Avenue in the City of Portage.

• $225,000 in gap funding for three affordable Habitat for Humanity homes (a three-bedroom residence at 220 Foresman Ave. in Kalamazoo, a two-bedroom house at 625 Gayle Ave. in Kalamazoo Township, and a five-bedroom dwelling at 2403 Corlot St. in Kalamazoo.

• $289,475 in gap financing for three new residences by Valley Vision Construction and Development on Martin Street in Kalamazoo’s Northside Neighborhood.

• $600,000 for four new attainable homes by Kalamazoo Neighborhood Housing Services in Kalamazoo Township on the Eastside of Kalamazoo.
Commissioners also approved grant funding for six owner-occupied housing rehabilitation projects, for a total amount of $1,068,210. They include:
• $224,210 to expand the City of Portage’s Housing Assistance Program. It typically serves 12 households annually. With the millage funding serving to “match” the current budget for the program, the city hopes to serve 20 or more households annually.

• $225,000 for Community HomeWorks to perform health and safety critical home repairs in Kalamazoo County. It can support an estimated 27 households in an 18-month period.

• $94,000 for Kalamazoo Valley Habitat for Humanity to perform nine critical home repairs for low-income homeowners.

• $200,000 for Better World Builders to do owner-occupied home rehabilitation work in the City of Galesburg.

• $100,000 for emergency home repairs in the City of Portage. The city offers up to $1,000 in grant funds to complete household repairs that address an immediate threat to the health, safety, and welfare of the residents.

• $225,000 for Kalamazoo Neighborhood Housing Services to do exterior home repairs in Kalamazoo County. The Kalamazoo County Housing Plan
identified that a lot of the area’s housing stock is over 50 years old and home owners’ top concerns were structural issues, mold, electrical, pests, and lead.
Through Tuesday, the County Board has thus far approved a total of about $7.966 million for the development of multi-family housing projects. Of that, $3 million was allocated for projects in 2022, another $2,390,000 is to be allocated for projects this year and $2.576 million is on track to be allocated for projects that will be developed in 2024.
The Board has approved just over  $2.692 million for supportive services projects. That includes $1,051,900 allocated for projects in 2022, another $975,515 is to be allocated for projects in 2023, and $664,597 is on track for services that will occur in 2024.

The board has also allocated a total of $6,664,475 for the development of single-family housing. That includes $1.1 million for projects in 2022, another $2.364 million for projects in 2023, approximately $1.6 million for projects that will occur in 2024, and $1.6 million for projects that will occur in 2025.
Mark Lee, owner of Better World Builders told commissioners, “We were afforded a grant of $75,000 to help the City of Galesburg and improve housing in the City of Galesburg. We used those funds to identify energy efficiency opportunities as well as resiliency in the homes that were in the City of Galesburg.”
He said his company was about to help seven households by replacing unsafe insulation and working with other organizations to do weatherization.
“We want to thank the commissioners for passing such a progressive bill and recognizing that housing is such an important issue in our community,” Lee said. “And by continuing to help elevate every individual household within our community.”
Balkema said, “I just think there’s a lot of confidence and a lot of positive momentum with the Housing Millage. The feedback from the developers and folks in our community has been really, really good.”

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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.