Kalamazoo's Northside Association for Community Development focuses on homeownership, skill training

The advocacy organization for Kalamazoo’s Northside Neighborhood considers homeownership and high-quality job training to be keys for area residents to build wealth and maintain it. 
So it is in the first phase of a two-part project to make those things happen. 
“Phase one of this project,”  says Mattie Jordan-Woods, executive director of the Northside Association for Community Development, “is to complete four single-family, owner-occupied homes, and to continue to develop the Neighborhood-Based Technology and Skilled Trades Center, which will provide training in the trades with credentials and access to employers who are willing to hire.”
NACD plans to begin the construction this year of four single-family houses on what are now vacant parcels in the 400 block of West Ransom Street.
Under an agreement to repurpose vacant or marginal property for affordable housing and commercial space, the City of Kalamazoo gave $350,000 to NACD in 2019 to purchase the property. The association used the money, which was provided as an aspiration project grant from the Kalamazoo Foundation for Excellence, to acquire seven properties between North Street and Ransom Street, just east of Westnedge Avenue. 
The Stryker Johnston Foundation subsequently provided $1 million to be used for environmental assessments, demolition of existing structures, and to go toward the construction of single-family housing. And in March, the association was officially notified that it will also be the recipient of $2 million in federal funding to help its efforts. U.S. Rep. Fred Upton (R-St. Joseph) petitioned for the grant and announced the award on March 25. 
The funding is intended to support further development of affordable single-family housing as well as NACD’s proposed Neighborhood-Based Technology and Skilled Trades Center.
The Skilled Trades Center, which will expand the facilities at the association’s 612 N. Park St. headquarters, is intended to allow neighborhood residents easy access to skills-training programs that lead to good-paying jobs. And it will provide a permanent home for programs that NACD began offering in 2019.
That is when the association started its Neighborhood-Based Workforce Career Development Program, intended to train residents of Kalamazoo’s North Side, East Side and Edison neighborhoods for good-paying jobs without them having to travel long distances to get that training. For those struggling financially and without dependable transportation, travel to and from quality job-training programs has been a hurdle, Jordan-Woods has said. It also has been a challenge for those already working at jobs that limit their travel time.
Working with Shared Prosperity Kalamazoo, LISC, The Kalamazoo Promise, Youth Opportunities Unlimited, Bronson Healthcare Group, Stryker Corp., and others, NACD’s program started with a certified nursing assistant course and expanded to include training in healthcare, the construction trades, and manufacturing. 
The new Skilled Trades Center will require the addition of about 3,800 square feet to the 9,600 square feet of space that NACD has in its Urban Garden Building, just north of its existing offices. Jordan-Woods says the center is intended to be a place for people of all ages to learn and explore technology. It will include a computer lab but grow to provide training for such fields as graphic design and printing.
The four new houses planned for Ransom Street are in synch with RIP-C, the Northside Neighborhood’s plan to build a total of 21 new homes in five years, repurposing what are now vacant properties. Along with the houses on Ransom, 14 residences are to be built on North Church Street and three on West Frank Street.
RIP-C stands for Residents Implementing Our Plan - Collaborative. The “collaborative” will incorporate the skilled trades training and workforce development. “And that’s collaborating with different organizations,” Jordan-Woods says.
The houses NACD intends to build “will be single-family, owner-occupied homes that will have deep subsidies in them so that people who traditionally would not be able to be a homeowner, can become a homeowner,” Jordan-Woods says.
“We are trying to rebuild our community to restore houses that were here,” Jordan-Woods says.
As they drafted the RIP-C plan residents said they wanted to see an increase in the amount of affordable housing, in the neighborhood, as well as an increase in home ownership and business ownership, she says.  
Dozens of older houses in the Northside Neighborhood have fallen into foreclosure over the years, including many on North Church Street. Many were torn down. Jordan-Woods’ efforts include “restoring the beauty of Church Street by putting the homes back with families who want to live there.”
The skills center will put them within walking distance of the skills training they need, she says. The association’s agreements with home construction professionals will include providing skilled trades experience. Contractors will be required to involve residents of the Edison, Eastside, and Northside neighborhoods in some manner in the building of the planned houses, Jordan-Woods says. 
NACD is also working to redevelop a vacant former nightclub building in the 400 block of North Street into a space with six small housing units. Five of those rental units will be used to house people at risk of being homeless, such as young people who have aged out of the foster care system. They may also provide space for students headed into skilled trades or young adults set to take advantage of The Kalamazoo Promise free college scholarship program. The sixth will house a site manager.
She says the total cost of her nonprofit organization’s efforts has been a moving target as construction costs have risen sharply over the past two years and because it has not yet received all its funding. So it will continue to seek help with construction costs.
Speaking of the houses planned for Ransom Street, Jordan-Woods says, “When we first started out, those homes were supposed to be $225,000 (each). But with the pandemic, all of the floods, not being able to get supplies, and you name it, those homes are up to $350,000.” 
She is pleased with the idea of repurposing unused property.
The planned developments, she says are also “going to provide a safe place for people to be able to improve the quality of life. And it is going to provide free credentialed training that will allow people to be able to get good-paying jobs.”
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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.