KALAMAZOO, Mich. (WOOD) — Months after a homeless camp in Kalamazoo was cleared by police, a community housing project is looking to help address that problem by providing more than just a few roofs over their heads.
Since the encampment was cleared on the Brownfield Redevelopment Authority site in October, many have wondered what would happen to the land. Michelle Johnson, CEO of nonprofit Playgrown, said volunteers and advocates were looking into the lead, cadmium, chromium, selenium and arsenic contaminating the ground while seeking a solution.
“We were assessing the soil quality, identifying what the issues were on this land and what the dangers were as well, simultaneous with talking with folks about what kind of housing they wanted,” Johnson said.
One of three planned developments along Ampersee is the Ampersee Home Start Initiative, a collaboration between Playgrown, the Institute of Public Scholarship and KDBrown Designs. To avoid exposure to the metals, co-op housing community would sit opposite of the Brownfield site, north of Hotop Avenue. Their plan is to build 10 homes, raised garden beds and a community courtyard, among other amenities.
Jennifer Mills of Kalamazoo College serves as the grant writer for the project.
“By creating a cooperative model, you get to feel like you’re having control of how the community is run, you’re investing your time, you’re able to generate the conditions that you know you need, which is no different than what you and I want in our home space,” Mills explained.
With accessibility being a concern for prospective tenants, designers, including Kenyotta Brown, and architects plan to have at least half of these homes ADA-compliant.
“Whenever you do have a project that is here to support the needs of the community, the one thing that you don’t want to do is to create a barrier to an opportunity,” Brown said.
Those with the project say fair-housing laws and guidelines will be followed so that anyone needing a roof over their head can be accommodated, especially those who are considered marginalized, like mothers, people of color and the LGBTQ community.
Tiyanna Williams, who serves as equitable development consultant for the project, was among the volunteers asking for input from advocates, neighbors living near the site and people without a home.
“Folks really feel like they are a part of this project. They are at the table, the intentionality of bringing in the voices,” Williams said.
Along with a handful of grants, the project recently received a $318,000 award from the Kalamazoo County Housing Millage. Advocates say $4 million is still needed to fully fund it. Anyone willing to donate is welcome to reach out by email.
If all goes according to plan, construction will start as early as mid-fall and take about a year to finish.
As for the Brownfield Redevelopment Authority site, city spokesperson Jay Shatara said the city is working with the state to get approval for “the proper remediation measures on the property.” He expects work to start this year.