Northside Association in Kalamazoo sets plans to build houses and help residents buy them

Editor's note: This story is part of Southwest Michigan Second Wave's On the Ground Northside series.

How do you increase the amount of owner-occupied housing in a neighborhood and help its residents become more financially stable?
The Northside Association for Community Development in Kalamazoo has a two-pronged answer for those longtime and usually complex problems.
The nonprofit community development organization is working to build 21 new houses in the neighborhood, which runs north of downtown Kalamazoo to the city limits and from west to east from Douglas Avenue to the Kalamazoo River.
Executive Director Mattie Jordan-Woods says NACD continues to work to create more affordable housing by implementing strategies that are part of its long-term neighborhood plan. The effort, which has been dubbed RIP-C (Residents Implementing Our Plan Collaborative), involves building 14 homes on what is now vacant property on Church Street, three on Frank Street, and four on Ransom Street.
NACD Executive Direction Mattie Jordan-Woods leads the first in a planned series of Affordable Housing meetings on Dec. 7, 2021.“The Northside took a hit when the mortgage foreclosures came,” Jordan-Woods says, speaking of the U.S. economic recession from 2008 to 2010. “And so we went from 51 percent owner-occupied homes to about 35 percent. … It devastated our community. Then what happened was there was a mass (movement) to tear down instead of rehabilitate. So you ended up with close to 200 vacant lots on the Northside. So there are 21 vacant lots just in this next block.”
She is referring to Church Street, which provides a good example of the need to rebuild housing in order to fill vacant lots. Jordan-Woods says that although 14 new houses are planned for Church Street, they will not fill all of the 21 vacant lots currently on that street. Based on the anticipated size of some new houses, some of those lots will be combined and there will be room for about 17 new residences, she says.
Of some 5,130 houses in the neighborhood, only 195 were built since 2000, while 2,983 were built before 1939, according to real estate resources site 
Along with home construction, NACD recently hosted the first in what will be a series of meetings to allow people to ask questions and learn what they need to know to buy one of the new houses or to buy any other house they choose. NACD plans to work with home builders and banks to help people of limited means find ways to buy.
“So we’re going to call this Affordable Housing,” Jordan-Woods says of those sessions, which have a town-hall format allowing people to question lenders on anything from funding programs for people with poor credit to ways to save money to position themselves for a purchase. One meeting is to take place every three months.
An artist’s rendering by Byce & Associates shows the floor plan of one of the houses that the Northside Association for Community wants to build over the next few years.About 40 people attended the first session on Dec. 7 at NACD’s 612 N. Park St. location.
The Neighborhood Association plans to build houses of 1,300 to 1,500 square feet. It has an agreement with the Kalamazoo County Land Bank to buy the properties it needs for a total of about $10,000. The Land Bank allows qualified nonprofits to buy vacant property for $500, then allows that organization four years to build.
An artist’s rendering provides a look at features that may be built into any of the 21 houses the Northside Association for Community Development plans to build.“We hope to begin building in the fall of 2022,” Jordan-Woods says. 
Funding for the effort got its start with a $1 million grant from the Stryker Johnston Foundation. That money is earmarked to build four affordable homes and create a technical center “because the RIP-C also has to do with training people to get good jobs,” Jordan-Woods says. “So that they can stay in those houses that get built.”
NACD is working to get grant funding for the overall project. Construction of the houses is projected to cost $8 million to $9 million in total.
“If everything went great,” Jordan-Woods says, “instead of starting in the fall of 2022 we would start at least two houses in spring and two people would be homeowners by December (of 2022).”

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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.