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Affordable tiny home neighborhood planned

Malachi Barrett mbarret1@mlive.com

A local social service organization is planning a tiny home neighborhood to provide housing for people with criminal backgrounds or substance abuse issues.

Construction will begin this spring on six 400-square-foot homes and a leasing office at the corner of North Street and Westnedge Avenue in the Northside neighborhood. HOPE Thru Navigation founder Gwendolyn Hooker said the project aims to stabilize vulnerable populations while addressing the city’s affordable housing shortfall.

A capital campaign is kicking off to raise $350,000 for the project. The site includes a vacant lot and a 2,880-square-foot building that will be demolished before construction begins in the spring.

Rent for the loft-style homes will cost $400 a month, a rate of $1 per square foot. It should be affordable for people making 30 percent of the median income in Kalamazoo County, or about $14,500, according to figures published by the Michigan State Housing and Development Authority.

Three of the six houses would be available for tenants to put their rent toward permanent ownership.

Hooker hopes the project will provide a template that could be replicated across Kalamazoo. It is based on a Detroit model implemented by United Methodist minister Faith Fowler, executive director of Cass Community Social Services and author of “Tiny Homes in a Big City.”

Fowler visited Kalamazoo several times while the local initiative was planned.

George Franklin, a retired Kellogg lobbyist and 2018 Democratic primary candidate for Congress, said he made a donation to help purchase the property. Franklin did not disclose how much he donated but said he is a strong supporter of the project.

“ The way to prevent homelessness is to build homes,” Franklin said. “What I loved about this project is it is going to prevent homelessness. It’s a wonderful cause. I was glad to help.”

Wraparound social support services will be available on site through partnerships with community collaborators, such as Community Healing Centers, KPEP, Northside Recovery and Resource Center, the Kalamazoo Community Foundation’s Truth, Racial Healing and Transformation initiative, ISAAC and others.

Hooker said the homes are specifically for able-bodied adults with a criminal background or history of substance abuse who do not have any dependents.

Services will provide people with routes to employment, education and self-sufficiency, Hooker said. The idea is to address issues that contribute to chronic homelessness beyond affordability.

“We know Kalamazoo already has a homelessness issue,” Hooker said. “When you add barriers like criminal backgrounds and substance abuse issues to that equation, the situation is exacerbated exponentially.”

A conceptual site plan was designed by O’Boyle, Cowell, Blalock & Associates and unveiled to the community at a Jan. 25 launch event.

Hooker said the project is expected to be replicated in the Vine neighborhood.

George Franklin, retired Kellogg lobbyist and 2018 Democratic primary candidate for Congress

A structure at the corner of North Street and Westnedge Avenue will be demolished to make way for a low-income housing project in the city of Kalamazoo. Malachi Barrett, MLive.com

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