A $7.2 million renovation has turned a former Catholic school in Detroit’s Banglatown neighborhood into housing.
City officials and developers on Monday marked the opening of the Transfiguration Place Apartments, where the 19 units are for individuals making $28,000 or less, and who will not pay more than 30% of their income on rent and utilities.
The 21,500-square-foot building at 13300 Syracuse near East McNichols includes 17 one-bedroom apartments and two two-bedroom units. Built in 1926, the former school also served as a church until 1950. It’s been vacant since 2014. It is the oldest surviving part of a complex added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2019.
“No longer an educational fixture in the community, Transfiguration is an adaptive reuse at its best. Its scale fits the surrounding landscape, and its use as housing for families fits well in the neighborhood,” said Sandra Henriquez, CEO of the Detroit Housing Commission during the Monday ribbon cutting. “Much as the former school was an anchor in this community, this housing can now serve that same purpose.”
Rent is expected to be $815 for the one-bedrooms and $1,049 for the two bedroom units. The income-eligible residents will receive vouchers from the Detroit Housing Commission so they aren’t paying more than 30% of their income on rent. This will last 20 years, Henriquez said.
The developers are Detroit-based Ethos Development Partners and Cinnaire Solutions, in Lansing. The city in 2017 began working with the Archdiocese of Detroit to find a developer.
“We were in a neighborhood where people are coming back, property values are rising quickly, rents are rising quickly and there was a risk of longtime residents,” being pushed out, Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan said, and in the middle of it was an abandoned school.
The project received about $1.9 million in Michigan State Housing Development Authority low-income housing tax credits, $1 million in federal historic tax credits, along with $1.4 million in federal HOME investment partnerships grants and $750,000 in community development block grants through the city’s housing and revitalization department.
“We know that adaptive reuse can have major impacts in neighborhoods — we’ve seen that downtown with many formerly vacant buildings now being centers of activity,” said Julie Schneider, director of the city’s housing and revitalization department.
Victoria Griffin walked the halls of the school in her youth. She remembers the cafeteria and the gym.
Griffin, 51, lives just two blocks away and has been a part of the neighborhood her entire life. The transformation of the building is a “milestone.” She hopes the housing will stay affordable in the future and that more abandoned schools will be similarly renovated.
“This is a revitalization of my community. I grew up here as a child, I stayed here. People kept telling me, ‘Why do you live in Detroit? You don’t need to stay in Detroit. You should leave Detroit,’ but I love Detroit. And I’m an example of when you stay and you fight, you can make a difference in your community,” she said.
Detroit’s Campau/Banglatown neighborhood — which sits near the Hamtramck and Detroit border — is home to a diverse population of African American, Yemeni, Polish and Bosnian residents. The area also has a large Bangladeshi immigrant population, and a number of businesses line the commercial corridor, Conant Avenue.
Roughly half of the residents in and around Banglatown were born outside the United States, according to a report last year from Global Detroit, which studied the area and surrounding neighborhoods. Rapid immigration growth has contributed to retail business growth and housing stability, researchers found. Sixty three percent of residents in the area were homeowners, compared with 47% in the city as a whole.
“This just shows what it takes to build quality, affordable housing in our neighborhoods — something we’re not seeing that often, but we’re seeing more and more now in the city of Detroit,” said Detroit Council Member Scott Benson, whose district includes the Banglatown neighborhood.
Residents who are interested in the units can call the Detroit Housing Commission at 313-877-7864.
It’s good to see older, sturdy, well-built structures get re-purposed to new uses. Many of them have wonderful architectural details from the period of time in which they were built that would be cost-prohibitive to create today. Most can be retrofitted for new systems with heat, plumbing, electricity that meet energy-efficient standards today, and the final result is less than putting up a new, but bland building. Additionally, these structures ‘fit’ into a neighborhood. They often they served for decades in the original use and will be able to serve decades more in a new capacity.
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