City of Kalamazoo looks for investors to revitalize blighted areas into affordable housing


Kalamazoo City leaders invited the public to invest in blighted property that could be developed into multi-family units as part of the Imagine Kalamazoo 2025 Master Plan.

Rebekah Kik, the City of Kalamazoo director of community planning and economic development, said it could be an opportunity for people to help take back their communities. People buying properties in blighted areas could put money back in the neighborhoods, wallets and help those less fortunate find housing.

“We want to empower residents to be able to do that in their neighborhoods, in their community. It’s not about bringing in an outsider, it’s not about big developers. It’s about empowering people in the places they already live,” said Kik.

Kik explained most of the focus are on blighted areas in the Northside, Eastside and Edison neighborhoods.

“We’ve had a lot of demolitions of single family homes, we’ve had disinvestment and there’s underutilized land. That is really the prime place for a duplex to be built, or a triplex to be built,” said Kik. “From a resident who might live across the street from one of these vacant properties and say ‘Yeah, why don’t I build another house across the street and become a landlord? But how would I do that?’ And that’s when the Incremental Development Alliance comes in.”

The city is currently training with the Incremental Development Alliance. Kik explained that the group is made of members from across the country. The team is helping the city teach everyday people about small scale developments.

"We want to be able to provide the right level of rent in the neighborhood, get these vacant lots filled that houses used to be there," said Kik.

Kik said people learn about the affordable housing market, zoning, financing and more before investing.

“We want to empower residents to be able to do that in their neighborhoods, in their community,” said Kik. “Some of the large-scale developers aren’t going to take on a small project under a million dollars. So, we need a bunch of these small developers to make an impact on small lots within the neighborhoods.”

Ricky Thrash owns Ennoy’s Beauty Bar in the Northside Neighborhood. He said he and Yvonne, his wife, have been entrepreneurs in north Kalamazoo for 30 years.

Thrash said in the many years he has owned businesses on the Northside that he has watched the neighborhoods he loves decline.

“There’s a house that’s too old, you tear it down, now you got a vacant lot. There’s a business too old, get torn down, you got a vacant lot. It’s too small to do anything with it, so now you’ve got all these vacant. Almost like a ghost town,” said Thrash. “I’ve seen the businesses, both black and white, thrive and then just kind of disappear. And I would really like to see that come back.”

Thrash is looking at the city’s potential ideas of affordable housing in the rundown spaces. Thrash said he owns three multi-family units already.

“When young adults see you have a successful business then they in turn say, ‘Well, I’d like to do something like that’” said Thrash. “It’s important to me just to clean it up, make it look nice. Give kids inspiration. I’m vested in this city, I’m vested in this community. Kalamazoo didn’t choose me, I chose Kalamazoo. And because I chose Kalamazoo I’d like to see my city be the best that it can be.”

Representatives with the Incremental Development Alliance said they are working with other west Michigan cities to bring this affordable housing idea to neighborhoods. The group will host a small scale development lecture at the Battle Creek Police Department on September 26 at 7 p.m. A workshop will be held in Battle Creek November 8, from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. A location for the workshop will be determined.

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