The Kzoo POD Community continues to search for a place the unhoused can call home

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.

Housing Resources Inc. of Kalamazoo is using the next few months to see if part of the former Portage Paper Co. site on Alcott Street is suitable for use as a regular community for the unhoused.
Housing Resources announced that it has signed a Letter of Intent with the City of Kalamazoo “to move us forward in the development of ‘A Kzoo POD Community: A Place of Dignity,’” says Michelle Davis, executive director of the organization.
“We remain excited about the project,” she says in a Feb. 28, 2023 press release. “The Letter of Intent provides HRI a six-month period to continue our due diligence and decide whether the site, located at 333 E. Alcott Street, is feasible for the project through a lease or purchase.”
HRI is a nonprofit organization that helps people find affordable housing and apply for financial aid. HRI also provides crisis intervention involving housing. That latter includes helping renters avoid eviction.
The Kalamazoo County Health and Community Services building, seen looking south from Reed Street, is adjacent to the possible location for the Kzoo POD Community.The Pod community is expected to provide a safe transition space for unhoused adults while they seek permanent housing and as the community develops a more permanent housing solution for those in need. Davis did not respond to calls for further comment.
So what’s next?
“This is sort of a six-month, loose agreement that allows HRI to spend some money on doing due diligence without the risk of losing it and (they’re) getting the opportunity to decide whether they’re interested or not,” says Kalamazoo Mayor David Anderson.
While the Alcott Street address of the site is adjacent to the Kalamazoo County Department of Health and Community Services and the Family Health Center, the land being considered involves a few acres between Alcott and Reed streets. It is on the northern portion of undeveloped land, closer to Reed Street on the former Portage Paper Plant property. And that is a huge reclaimed brownfield site. The site is owned by the City of Kalamazoo Brownfield Development Authority.
“There’s going to be an environmental piece,” Anderson says, related to determining what else may need to be done at the site. He went on to say there would be a discussion with neighbors, a review of utility access, and consideration of the environmental work necessary to prepare the site and install needed amenities. 

Part of this section of the former Portage Paper Co. site, looking south from Reed Street, is being considered as a potential site for the Kzoo POD Community.
The site is not far south of Stockbridge Avenue, where HRI considered putting the Kzoo POD Community when it was originally announced in October of 2021. “POD” stands for “Place of Dignity.” The Stockbridge location is the vacant former Michigan Department of Human Services property at 322 E. Stockbridge Ave. HRI decided against using that site after members of the surrounding Edison Neighborhood said the property was subject to flooding and some balked at the idea of seeing an increase in the number of transient people in the area.
Plans have called for erecting 50 small, weather-resistant enclosures to house people who have been living outdoors in Kalamazoo. HRI spent about $1 million to purchase the modular housing units in one-person and two-person sizes: 8’ by 8’ by 8’ and 16' by 8' by 8'. Called ModPods, they were designed in Oregon and have been used there and in other parts of the country. They have powder-coated aluminum framing, insulated walls, and an aluminum composite exterior. No wood is used in their construction, making them less susceptible to fire.
Executive Director Michelle Davis says Housing Resources Inc. understands that it needs the entire community’s help as it tries to establish transitional housing for people in need.The site is also expected to have a more permanent building where organizations and professionals can provide services to help people obtain food, closing, and other necessities, as well as find jobs and address other problems.
Despite a big push to have a site leased and a community started in time to help shelter people from winter weather in 2021 and 2022, supply chain problems delayed the delivery date of the ModPods and the lack of a usable site has caused the project to stall until now. The pods themselves, which have to be assembled, have been delivered but remain in storage here. 
HRI says the Kzoo POD Community will not be an encampment. The organization envisions a managed community “created with intention and dignity and 24/7 staff support.” HRI is working with Byce and Associates Inc., a local architecture and engineering firm, to create a site plan that it can present to the wider community when it begins to conduct neighborhood and community information sessions. Those sessions are expected to allow residents to learn more about the POD project.
“Having a potential site is a step forward,” Anderson said. “So that’s good news. And some of the work that you’re going to have to do related to what it would take to get the amenities in place … that kind of information could be used on another site. At least there is progress being made.”
Davis said, “HRI understands that we are partners in this endeavor, and we need the entire community’s support and resources. No one organization or institution can solve this issue alone.” 

In its update on plans for the community, the organization thanked the City of Kalamazoo, other organizations, and residents of Kalamazoo for supporting the project. It hopes to raise awareness of the need to help the unhoused, as well as $110,000, with a 5-kilometer walk on March 18, starting at 10 a.m. at the Kalamazoo Growlers Stadium.
Anderson says, “I am hopeful in general that we are able to execute in the creation of this kind of a model to serve individuals who are reluctant to participate in the shelter system.”
Part of this section of the former Portage Paper Co. site, looking south from Reed Street, is being considered as a potential site for the Kzoo POD Community.While hundreds of people who are unhoused or who are undergoing a housing crisis stay in already-established shelters in Kalamazoo, he says, “There are also probably 100 to 150 empty shelter beds on any given night in Kalamazoo. So this is addressing a need for people who have more reluctance about participating in the shelter system and we certainly need to do what we can to fill that gap.”
Davis said the lack of affordable housing is a crisis of historic proportions at the local and national levels, and “HRI will continue to lift the importance of providing creative temporary housing solutions that will provide the dignity and respect we all deserve as human beings. We know Kalamazoo has the passion, resilience, fortitude, and resources to be bold while providing the much-needed solution to the housing crisis.”

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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.