Catholic school turned affordable housing opens in GR

Grand Rapids

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — A former Catholic school building transformed into an affordable housing development on Grand Rapids’ West Side is complete.

St. James Apartments and Townhomes is located on the corner of First Street and Milwaukee Avenue, at the site of St. James Catholic Church’s school building. 

“About five years ago, I was taking a walk in the neighborhood and I saw this beautiful historic school with a ‘for sale’ sign,” said John Wynbeek, executive director of Genesis Non-Profit Housing Corporation.

Wynbeek had a vision: the vacant school built in 1922 could have new life as affordable and supportive housing. And so the plan for St. James Apartments and Townhomes was born.

Since then, development has boomed on the West Side.

“Along with that development comes an increase in market rates for housing, and that tends to displace people who have been here for many, many years,” explained Wynbeek.

St. James Apartments and Townhomes is meant to help the housing crisis. All 36 apartments and 16 new town homes will be marketed for city residents who earn 30 to 60 percent of the area median income.

“Another way to describe affordable housing is workforce housing. It provides housing for people who work in our community, who work on the West Side,” said Wynbeek.

Developers say 13 of the units will be reserved for people with special needs.

Grand Rapids Mayor Rosalynn Bliss commended the project, saying it fits into the city’s Great Housing Strategies plan and “fills a growing need in our community for high-quality, long-term affordable housing.”

Genesis Non-Profit Housing Corporation and Colliers International West Michigan say designers of St. James Apartments and Townhomes stayed true to the original construction of the school, maintaining the exterior, transforming the auditorium into a community room, and repurposing chalkboards as a way for residents to express themselves.

“This is a historic school. It’s been a real important piece of the fabric of the west side for almost a hundred years now,” said Wynbeek.

In the next couple of months, rooftop solar panels will be added to the Gold LEED-certified building. Developers say the affordable housing community is the first in Grand Rapids to have a rooftop solar array.

“The West Side has experienced amazing and great development and it’s a great place to be,” said Wynbeek.

Additionally, families with students who live in St. James may become part of the Challenge Scholars Program, which offers tuition free college or technical training to eligible Union High School graduates.

>>Photos: Inside St. James Apartments and Townhomes in GR

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