KALAMAZOO, MI — The first phase of the Tiny Houses of HOPE project will break ground in Kalamazoo on Thursday, Oct. 8.
The first phase will focus on Kalamazoo’s Northside neighborhood adding six tiny homes and a center for wrap-around services for the nonprofit Helping Other People Exceed (HOPE) thru Navigation.
The $500,000 project has been years in the making as HOPE Thru Navigation founder Gwendolyn Hooker was adamant about creating an affordable housing solution for the population her nonprofit serves.
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The tiny homes will be available for those who have been incarcerated, have at least one year of sobriety under their belt and are currently employed. Hooker said she already has 200 candidates in Kalamazoo who fit this description.
Through her work at HOPE thru Navigation, Hooker said she was continually seeing clients couch surfing because they were turned away from landlords based on their substance abuse or criminal background.
Hooker zeroed in on housing for this population based on studies showing that relapse and recidivism rates drop by 70% if a person leaving treatment or prison has housing and employment in the first 45 days.
“Everybody knew that it was a need, but a lot of people were not loving the idea of the demographic,” Hooker said. “I was immovable on that. That was the main part of the project that couldn’t be changed.”
The plan eventually received financial backing from Kalamazoo Community Foundation and Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC) Kalamazoo. Community members also came together to donate $51,000.
“Not folks that were rich or have foundations, but just folks who care about equity and housing for everybody,” Hooker said. “We started out with raising money from the community first, because we wanted to make sure that we have community buy-in.”
The first phase of the plan will build three tiny homes for rent and three for future homeowners. Each tiny home will be 400 square feet and have a monthly rent of $400.
The tiny house steering committee’s five-year plan is to have six tiny houses on each side of town. The order in which they will be built is dependent on the concentration of residents with substance abuse or criminal histories in each neighborhood.
The next neighborhood would be the Vine neighborhood. They hope to serve clients who are also going to school. Those tiny homes would be duplex-style to allow for possible roommates, Hooker said.
HOPE thru Navigation is continuing its crowdsourcing efforts as each phase costs $350,000 to build. The Mingles for Shingles house parties the nonprofit hosted previously have paused due to the health crisis. Stopping in-person fundraising events at the height of their momentum was difficult, Hooker said.
The COVID-19 pandemic also put the project three months behind schedule and created a steep competition for contractors, Hooker said. Still, the plan is to have the houses built and ready for move-in by January 2021.
“We want people to know we were delayed but not dismayed,” Hooker said. “We are absolutely back in full swing for the tiny houses of hope pilot project.”
The nonprofit will have a groundbreaking ceremony that can be attended virtually on Thursday, Oct. 8, at the site on the 400 block of North Street. The houses and the resource center will sit on the corner of North Street and Westnedge Avenue.
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