"We've been looking for this for quite some time," says Woody Jones, a longtime Kalamazoo resident, investor in residential property, and neighbor to those who have just moved into newly built houses on Rose and Burdick streets.
Jones is standing inside one of the one-story, Craftsman style homes that have sold quickly thanks to a program known as KHOP, or Kalamazoo Housing Opportunity Program, and are changing the landscape of the neighborhood.
Over the years, Jones says he has seen programs before that aimed to revitalize Kalamazoo's neighborhoods and he has worked with city officials in attempts to make that happen. What he sees happening now, the new homes going up and others being rehabbed, leads Jones to foresee what he calls a "rebirth" for the neighborhood.
He points to the Family Health Center with its more than $10 million expansion completed in July 2012 and Lincoln Elementary and the neighborhoods proximity to downtown as pluses.
"We have the Family Health Center, the school, and being so close to downtown--this is going to attract other small businesses," Jones predicts. "We're going to build up a nice neighborhood for my grandbaby," he says with a smile to the youngster visiting with him this afternoon at a small open house where a few neighbors share milk and cookies, meet one another, and talk to Second Wave Media about their experience with KHOP.
Noah Krzan, who lives at 1015 N. Rose, moved into his house in March, 2012. A recent college graduate, and a middle school math teacher in the Kalamazoo Public Schools, he was ready to move out of his mother's home when he learned of KHOP through a flier placed in his mailbox at school.
"I really like having my own space," Krzan says. A musician in the Kalamazoo Symphony Orchestra, he particularly appreciates having a place where he can practise his bass without bothering those he lives with. He also says he appreciates the construction that went into the homes. "They are beautifully built."
The new houses that have gone up on Rose and Burdick streets are part of the larger KHOP program headed by the Kalamazoo County Land Bank
. The land bank, which promotes economic development by acquiring, demolishing, disposing or holding on to properties that are vacant, abandoned or tax foreclosed, has invested funds provided by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act in a number of neighborhoods.
The rehabbed or newly constructed homes are sold at rates that make them affordable to those who might not otherwise be able to get into them. The homes are concentrated in areas where there is are existing neighborhood anchors, such as churches or neighborhood gardens. In the Burdick and Rose street neighborhood, the Family Health Center, Lincoln Elementary School and Mt. Zion Church serve as anchors.
The one-story homes all have fenced back yards and a two-car garage with ramp that makes it a home where residents can age in place. They also have amenities like doors sized so that a person in a wheelchair can get through them. Although the homes are not fully accessible, a person in a wheelchair who is visiting could navigate the home. Throughout, there is attention to detail in carpentry work inside and landscaping outside.
Brenda Thomas first saw her North Rose Street home while she was on the Parade of Homes. "That was a Friday. On Monday, I went straight to the bank and I was approved." She says she is grateful to Pierson Real Estate, PNC Bank, and the Kalamazoo County Land Bank for making it possible for her to get into her new home.
Thomas, a 25 year resident of Kalamazoo, previously lived on Kalamazoo's East Side in two-story home that had become difficult for the retiree. "It's so convenient," she says of her new home. "Everything is on one floor. I don't enjoy stairs anymore."
Having only been in the home for two weeks she had not met a lot of neighbors, but said Noah had been over to introduce himself and she found another homeowner in the neighborhood attended the same homeownership class that she did.
Enrique Leon, who lives nearby at 215 Norway Ave., had been looking across town in neighborhoods like Milwood and Westnedge Hill when he found out about the KHOP home on Norway. The house itself and its close proximity to downtown were what sold him.
"I love everything about it," Leon says.
Leon, who is employed by a landscape design company, appreciated the class in personal finance that he took as part of becoming qualified to for the program, too.
"I didn't know how to manage my debt," Leon says. "Now I am out of debt except for the house mortgage."
KHOP homes range in price from $40,000 to $130,000. Through the program, buyers who earned below 120 percent of area median income obtained down payment assistance. Those below 50 percent potentially could qualify for larger subsidies.
For example, a family of three with an income of no more than $68,280 would have been eligible for KHOP subsidies. With a 1 percent down payment -- $1,020 on a $102,000, to continue the example -- a buyer could get down payment assistance of up to $20,400 and then be responsible for finding financing for the remaining $80,580.
By February, more than 30 homes had been sold through the program, eight sales were pending, and seven homes were still on the market. More than $16.1 million in stimulus dollars sustained the program.
The program got under way in 2010, when MSHDA, granting Housing and Urban Development monies, made more than $222 million available to 26 communities across the state, including Kalamazoo.
"It's even more of an achievement for us as a community that this was possible in a weak housing market," says Kelly Clarke, executive director of the Kalamazoo County Land Bank. Neighborhood associations, builders, realtors, and nonprofits came together to bring about the success seen in Kalamazoo. "It has very much been a collaborative effort."
The program exceeded expectations, Clarke says. More than 12 local builders worked on the homes and produced high quality homes and at the same time created job opportunities. Kalamazoo's project was working so well, that it got an additional $500,000 above and beyond its original funding.
"There's been a huge interest in it," Clarke says. "People want to be part of it."
As the open house winds down, Noah invites his new neighbors over for a gathering, and that is really how neighborhoods grow.
Kathy Jennings is the managing editor of Southwest Michigan's Second Wave. She is a freelance writer and editor.