GRAND RAPIDS — Construction has started on a $12.2 million housing project in Grand Rapids’ Belknap Lookout neighborhood that aims to bring housing affordability to a rapidly growing area of the city.
The 52-unit Union Suites on Coit project will feature a three-story, 46,000-square-foot apartment building with a mix of one-, two- and three-bedroom units. Apartment prices will range in affordability but restricted to households earning 30 to 80 percent of the area median income. The project will offer income-restricted rates for tenants after receiving $1.1 million in Low Income Housing Tax Credits (LIHTC) through the Michigan State Housing Development Authority.
Eight of the units in the development will also be reserved for tenants who have housing vouchers through the Wyoming Housing Commission.
The development team includes nonprofit housing organization Dwelling Place as well as engineers-turned-developers Tom Ralston and Nick Lovelace, who previously told MiBiz that their team is “trying to stop gentrification in an area going through a lot of redevelopment right now.”
KMG Prestige Inc. will manage the property once construction is completed, which is expected in August 2023. Grand Rapids-based Lott3Metz Architecture LLC is designing the project and Grand Rapids-based Orion Construction is the general contractor.
Members of the development team and local officials gathered at the project site at 608-626 Coit Ave. NE on Tuesday for a groundbreaking ceremony.
“This project is important for a number of reasons,” Grand Rapids Second Ward Commissioner Milinda Ysasi told MiBiz. “This allows for people to make a decision to live in Grand Rapids because we know it’s gotten more and more expensive and we don’t want to push people out because of their income levels or wealth they may or may not have.”
The project is near a number of amenities including a bus line, Coit Park, a school, Medical Mile and Grand Rapids Community College’s campus. In addition, the development is designed to integrate tenants of the development into the surrounding neighborhood, Ysasi said.
“For us, it was important to provide permanence and quality to this project,” said Lott3Metz Principal Greg Metz. “We did that by adding brick on the main level so when people look at it they realize this is a quality project. To make it integrative to the neighborhood, almost all of the main floor units have outdoor porches so that people will be outside and have this connection to the neighborhood and they’re going to be outside and talking to their neighbors.”
Parking will be underneath the building, Metz added.
Securing funding for an affordable housing project and getting it to this point “really does take a village,” Ralston said. In addition to the LIHTC funding, the developers also received $400,000 from the city of Grand Rapids’ revolving brownfield fund to demolish five homes formerly on the project site, Ralston said.
Doing business as Union Suites LLC, Lovelace purchased five properties — including three to the north of the planned project — on Jan. 12, 2021 for $1.85 million from Artesian Group LLC. The site was once planned for a high-end residential project that never came to fruition.
Chris Bennett, director of housing and community development at Dwelling Place, said bringing the project to the construction took multiple partners.
“These things are so complicated, it takes so much work from so many different people to make this work from concept to reality. It takes advocacy from everyone. Please continue, make the need for this known, make your voice heard as we keep going. The housing crisis we’re experiencing just needs constant attention,” Bennett said to the crowd at the groundbreaking ceremony. “This has gotten so much more complicated than even a few years ago.”
Union Suites LLC worked with the Michigan State Housing Authority to identify projects within the city of Grand Rapids in areas that are experiencing increasing rents. Ralston and Lovelace are also working with Dwelling Place to develop a 150-unit apartment project at 3566 Michael Ave. in Wyoming. Construction is expected to begin in December this year, Ralston said.
Lovelace also was part of the development team that converted a vacant church in the city’s Heritage Hill neighborhood into 22 affordable units at 200 Madison Ave. SE. The project was completed last year and was fully leased in November.
Amid an ongoing need for housing across various price points in Grand Rapids, 658 residential units were added to the city’s housing stock in 2021. Nearly 290 of those units meet the needs of low-income households, city officials reported early this year.
A 2020 housing study found that Grand Rapids will need at least 5,340 additional rental units and 3,548 owner-occupied units to satisfy housing demand and affordability by 2025.