The LodgeHouse: Long-term housing for the homeless is open for occupancy in Kalamazoo

Editor's note: This story is part of Southwest Michigan Second Wave's series on solutions to homelessness. It is made possible by a coalition of funders including the City of Kalamazoo, Kalamazoo County, Kalamazoo County Land Bank, the ENNA Foundation, and LISC.
 
Since large encampments of unhoused people were disbanded last year near downtown Kalamazoo, people without homes continue to find out-of-the-way places to pitch tents or craft shelters, advocates say.
 
Check the cluster of trees on the back side of a popular party store or the bet-you’ve-never-seen-it greenspace at the end of the footpath behind a busy car wash.
 
The need to quickly do something to help has been the driving force of many advocates for the unhoused. But long-term solutions have been an elusive goal -- finding ways to provide secure, reasonable, and sustainable housing to people who are struggling with an array of personal and financial needs.
 
Efforts to help have taken a step forward as 60 subsidized, efficiency-style apartments officially opened Friday, Oct. 7, 2022, for use by the unhoused. The months-long conversion of the former Knights Inn Motel at 1211 S. Westnedge Ave. has been completed and the LodgeHouse is available for occupancy.
 
The months-long conversion of the former Knights Inn Motel at 1211 S. Westnedge Ave. has been completed and the LodgeHouse is available for occupancy.The facility is providing fully furnished permanent, affordable studio apartments targeted at those who are unhoused and have very low incomes. The real estate project has been a sizeable undertaking for the LIFT Foundation, a Kalamazoo-based nonprofit organization that works to create, maintain, and operate affordable housing opportunities for people with low incomes. Renovation work started in August of 2021 and was originally expected to be done in late 2021. That was later adjusted to late June of this past summer as supply chain and similar barriers to completion went up.
 
Renovations have included the replacement of windows, doors, balcony rails, mechanical units, plumbing fixtures, electrical systems, interior finishes, and a fire sprinkler system. Kitchens have also been added to each living unit. Although the facility has 60 rooms, it may accommodate up to 120 people on a two-person per-room occupancy basis.
 
Lisa Willcutt, who leads the LIFT Foundation’s property management team, has said residents of LodgeHouse will be those with extremely low incomes who meet the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development definition of “literally homeless.” Apartments are being leased to individuals who have annual earnings of $18,200 or less, and two-person households that have annual earnings of $20,800 or less.
 
The project hopes to be approved in 2023 for Section 8 funding subsidies through the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. As such, rental rates would be based on 30 percent of a qualified individual’s income. A person who receives Supplemental Security Income benefits, for instance, (about $841 per month from the federal government and about $14 per month from the state) could expect to pay about $250 per month in rent.
 
The office area of LodgeHouse and an adjacent area will provide space for area organizations to provide services to help residents, all of whom are expected to be formerly unhoused people.“Real estate development for affordable housing is very challenging – even more so in the current environment with skyrocketing construction costs and very few traditional affordable housing resources available at the state and federal levels,” says Carole McNees, president of the LIFT Foundation board of directors.
 
The LIFT Foundation has spent more than $8 million to purchase and renovate what was a run-down motel, working with development partners CSM Group, InForm Architecture, and Lockhart Management & Consulting LLC.
 
McNees says LodgeHouse’s per-unit total development cost was 40 percent of typical new construction and although it required months of planning, it was realized twice as fast as a typical redevelopment project. 
 
Willcutt, who is also a principal of Lockhart Management & Consulting, says LIFT is using a community-based patchwork of funding to make the project work. Contributions have been made by the Stryker-Johnston Foundation, the Kalamazoo Community Foundation, the City of Kalamazoo, LISC Kalamazoo, Kalamazoo County, and charitable individuals. Although she and McNees did not provide specific numbers, they said more funding still needs to be raised.
 
Josh Rohs, left, director of Communication and Guidance for construction management firm CSM Group, stands on the exterior balcony of LodgeHouse with Todd George, project managers for the LodgeHodge redevelopment. Donations may be made online here or by mailing a check payable to “LIFT Foundation, A Nonprofit Housing Corporation” to Lisa Willcutt c/o Lockhart Management and consulting, 2725 Airview Blvd., Suite 202, Kalamazoo, MI 49002.
 
More information about the LIFT Foundation may be found here
 
Willcutt says management of the LodgeHouse will face some special challenges. Integrated Services of Kalamazoo Inc. is expected to be among area organizations that will use a community room at the location to provide ancillary services to help its residents. ISK provides services to help with mental health problems and substance use disorders.
 
“Our new residents will be moving in with the trauma of previous homelessness and perhaps unresolved mental health or substance use disorders,” Willcutt says. But she says, “We are committed to long-term tenant success which is why we will have 24-hour-a-day, seven-day-a-week support staff available in partnership with Integrated Services of Kalamazoo, the county’s public mental health provider.”

Read more articles by Al Jones.

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.