The Lord will provide: Efforts underway to build affordable senior housing in Kalamazoo’s Northside

​​A Way Home — Housing Solutions: This story is part of Southwest Michigan Second Wave's series on solutions to homelessness and ways to increase affordable housing. It is made possible by a coalition of funders including the City of Kalamazoo, Kalamazoo County, the ENNA Foundation, Kalamazoo County Land Bank, and LISC.
 
Rev. Addis Moore and members of his church realized about five years ago that the Northside Neighborhood in Kalamazoo needs affordable senior housing.
 
“We’ve got quite a few older members who are living alone that do not need to be in nursing homes and do not need to be in assisted living,” says the senior pastor of Mt. Zion Baptist Church. “They’re fine. But they’re alone. And if something happens to them, it may be days before someone knows it.”
 
At the same time, some of them are living in less than ideal conditions, he says, “And then they’re in places that are sub-par, that are not really livable or should be livable. And they’re trying to maintain and do all those (home maintenance) things themselves. It saps from their livelihood and them actually living a fulfilled life all the way to the end.”
 
So the church plans to build an affordable senior housing complex about two blocks south of its 120 Roberson St. location.
 
Rev. Addis Moore, pastor of Mt. Zion Baptist Church, says affordable housing for seniors is an investment in Kalamazoo’s Northside Neighborhood “so that we are contributing to making our own community richer.”“Right now, we’re putting together everything to submit to the state for
Michigan State Housing Development Authority (financial support) and that’s the large portion of it,” Moore says. “But it looks really good right now and from what we’re understanding and what we’ve experienced so far, it looks very good. It’s very promising.”
 
The church is working in partnership with Kalamazoo-based Hollander Development Corp. and architectural firm Byce & Associates Inc. to construct a two-building, 70-unit, housing complex on what is now greenspace in the 100 block of East North Street. The yet-to-be-named property is adjacent to the Ecumenical Senior Center, an independently-operated senior support and programming center on the southwest corner of the property, at Burdick and North streets.
 
The $26 million housing project involves the construction of two, three-story buildings -- a 36,000-square-foot northern structure with 36 apartment units, and a 33,000-square-foot southern structure with 34 units. The complex is one of a number of projects that has received funding from Kalamazoo County’s new housing millage, which is focused on addressing a critical shortage in housing in the city.
 
It was awarded $740,000 through the millage to help with construction costs and fill the gap between the total development cost and what is received from other resources. The project was also approved for housing vouchers in the amount of $500,000 (to be awarded in the 2023 millage year).
 
Each of the senior apartment units will be one-bedroom in design, ranging from 600 to 650 square feet, according to Jason Muniz, vice president of Hollander Development. That changes an original plan to include two-bedroom units. Although there may be changes, the single units are expected to rent for $243 to $975 per month (including utilities), depending on the income of the tenant. Muniz says the overall size of the buildings has not yet been decided but he anticipates plenty of space for a community room and resident amenities.
 
Hayward Babineaux, an architectural associate with Byce & Associates, talks about the Mt. Zion affordable senior housing project at a July 21, 2022 gathering at the church.The project will be on land the church has been acquiring for several years from Kalamazoo County and private sellers, including two church members who formerly lived on a portion of the property. At the core is residential property the church purchased about 15 years ago.
 
“We’re pretty preliminary at this point,” says Muniz. “We’ve put in an application for the millage funds attempting to get everything in order so we can put in an application for tax credits from MSHDA (the Michigan State Housing Development Authority). And that’s going to be the lynchpin. But we don’t have those yet.”
 
The cost to build and lease attractive multi-unit housing that is affordable for low- and moderate-income individuals and families far exceeds the return that a developer could expect over a reasonable amount of time, Muniz explains. And rents set below market rates do not provide an adequate return on an investor’s money, housing professionals say. So government subsidies and tax credits have become necessary tools. And Hollander has become a specialist in the very complicated process of compiling such funding for affordable housing.
 
If plans, financing, and regulatory approvals fall into place this fall, ground may be broken in late spring of 2023, and the apartment complex may be ready to occupy sometime in 2024, developers say.
 
Byce & Associates, the architectural and engineering firm for the project, has been working with Mt. Zion to get input from area residents by conducting a series of idea workshops called charettes. A charette is a participatory planning process that brings together citizens, project planners, civic officials, architects, and others to create a design or implement a strategy.
 
Jason Muniz, of Hollander Development Corp., answers questions about a planned senior housing complex during a July 21, 2022 community input session. He was joined by associate developer Jamauri Bogan, left.The four charettes that have been conducted thus far follow the process Hollander and Byce used as they developed The Creamery, a residential/commercial project in the Edison Neighborhood. That $14.7 million, mixed-income project opened in 2021. Muniz says charettes are an effort “to ensure that we are being inclusive of the needs of the neighborhood and not just interloping and telling people this is the development that is coming whether you like it or not.”
 
Area residents who attended a Thursday, July 21, charette said they want the housing complex to look like it’s part of the neighborhood. Michael Flynn, vice president of Byce & Associates, says plans call for outdoor gathering areas for apartment residents including areas that could accommodate such things as outdoor entertainment, lectures, receptions, and the monthly Kalamazoo Art Hops.
 
Mt. Zion Baptist Church is located at 120 Roberson Street in Kalamazoo. Its two Sunday services are visited by 800 to 1,000 members each week and others remotely.Each apartment will have access to a patio or balcony, Flynn says. Possible amenities include a small private dog park, a pocket park for family gatherings, play equipment for grandchildren, a shade pavilion, and arbors.
 
“The walkways between the two buildings are going to be wide and green and lush and covered,” he says. “We even talked about the potential for heated sidewalks to make sure that we’re reducing the chances of slips and falls. And to keep activity going through as many seasons as we can, including winter.”
 
A suggestion from one of the input sessions is to include a covered parking area. That area, a covered pavilion, could double as space for a farmers market or a makers market, Flynn says.
 
The housing project is underway at the same time the Ecumenical Senior Center, which receives financial contributions from Mt. Zion, is planning an expansion of its one-story, 4,000-square-foot building at 702 N. Burdick St. The center is planning to expand its programming for people age 60 and older to include activities that promote fitness and healthy living, Flynn says.
 
Seniors ask questions about plans for an affordable senior housing complex during a Thursday, July 21, 2022 charette, an idea-sharing community workshop.For them, Byce & Associates is designing a 10,000-square-foot, two-story addition. The addition will be to the east of the existing structure, closest to what will be the southern building of the Mt. Zion senior housing complex.
 
“The fact that they’re neighbors and adjacent to each other, one project benefits the other and they both help each other,” Flynn says. “We’re architects on both projects. Although they’re separate entities, we’re making sure there’s pedestrian connectivity and walkways between the buildings to encourage residents to use the Ecumenical Senior Center and then members of the Ecumenical Senior Center to possibly take advantage of some of the programs that will be featured at the Mt. Zion housing development.”
 
Among other things, the Ecumenical Senior Center will have an outdoor courtyard, a fire pit area, and container gardening. A rooftop terrace is to be built atop the original building that will be accessible from the second floor of the expansion structure.
The two buildings that will make up Mt. Zion Baptist Church’s affordable senior housing complex are shown in gold in the 100 block of East North Street. The three structures in the northeast portion of the property are privately owned residences.  
Muniz says Hollander Development is involved in the housing project because “Fundamentally what we saw was the need. And we had a conversation with the church, which had been acquiring the land specifically for seniors. And it’s adjacent to the Ecumenical Senior Center. So it makes a lot of sense.”
 
He says the partnership allows Mt. Zion to work with a seasoned developer who understands how to get all the pieces of the project together as well as the financing. “For us, it’s about having a strong community partner who understands the fabric of the neighborhood and how we can integrate our project into it,” Muniz says.
 
A man holds a little boy as they listen to plans for an affordable senior housing complex on July 21, 2022 at Mt. Zion Baptist Church.Moore says, “One of my thrusts is making our community better. ... The way I feel is that everybody who’s talking about what others ought to be doing are not doing what they should be doing. If you were, you would not have time to be worried about what others are doing. So I’m really about making it happen.”
 
Moore, who is in his 28th year as pastor of Mt. Zion, says he knows the value of land. His church has purchased adjacent land whenever it has become available with the idea that “God will tell us what to do with it when the time comes.”
 
The affordable housing project is part of the church’s hope to help transform the Northside Neighborhood. The pastor says he wants to make sure people on the Northside, particularly African-Americans and the churches, are involved in improving the neighborhood.
 
Rev. Addis Moore speaks with Northside residents who visited Mt. Zion Baptist Church on July 21, 2022 to provide input on plans for an affordable senior housing complex.“You’ve got a lot of investors and a lot of people looking at and buying places and doing things over here, but we’re not reaping the benefit of it,” Moore says. “This is done by the community, for the community. That is investing in the community so that we are contributing to making our own community richer.”
 
Of the housing project and other efforts, he says, “We believe it’s going to happen and so we’re excited and really hoping to generate more excitement about what is possible, what’s going to happen in our community.”

Photos by Fran Dwight. See more of her work here.

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.