Angela Shaw, shown here in the community garden at New Horizon Village, has lived in the apartment community for two and a half years. She’s excited about the renovation that will provide her and her neighbors with completely refurbished apartments. "We’ll have new fixtures, new cabinets, new flooring. It will be like a brand new home," she says. Photo by Robert Neumann.

Back in the days of the Nixon administration the former governor of Michigan, George Romney, was working as Secretary of Housing and Urban Development. He had big plans for housing for the poor.

Before his plans were derailed, Romney asked for ideas on how to best design such housing. He initiated the construction of homes in Operation Breakthrough, a revolutionary program that called for public housing that was not concentrated in downtowns and was close to jobs and schools.

Some of those affordable homes were built in the Kalamazoo area, and soon they are to be renovated so they can continue to be used as low-income housing. The housing complex was one of 10 Operation Breakthrough developments built across the country, most of which are no longer standing.

"We’re proud we are able to keep this development, and for it to continue to achieve the same mission that was set way back in the 1970s," says David Anderson of LIFT Foundation, a Kalamazoo nonprofit that receives federal and state funding to create and manage affordable and stable housing for people with low incomes locally.

Heather Gardens

The apartment community known as New Horizon Village will not only be completely renovated, but it will get a new name: Heather Gardens.

Heather Gardens will have 79 apartments — 20 subsidized housing units for those with disabilities, 43 for people with low incomes, and 16 market-rate apartments and townhomes.

According to Property Manager Holly Casteel (pictured here outside the New Horizon leasing office), the entire renovation will take about 18 months. While each apartment is worked on, the tenant will move to a vacant unit within the apartment community. Photo by Robert Neumann.

In addition to a new community center, Heather Gardens will have a computer lab where residents will be able to meet with those assisting them with job applications and youngsters can receive help with homework. Some who move in might have additional support services, such as case management tailored to their physical or psychological needs.

Renovations will be extensive in the development, which was constructed in 1972 and became a LIFT property in 2010. Anderson describes the renovations as a preservation and repurposing.

The renovations are being paid for by $9.2 million in funding from the Michigan State Housing Development Authority, using a combination of Low-Income Tax Credits and other MSHDA funding, including a loan. Anderson explains the IRS tax credit program has become the single biggest government program to fund low-income housing.

The project also received a $20,000 grant from the Kalamazoo Community Foundation, which Anderson says "was critical in receiving the award from MSHDA."

The housing gap

Anderson says it is difficult to pin down exactly what the gap is between the affordable housing available and what is needed by the community. A Kalamazoo County Community Action Agency report from 2013 states that for a variety of reasons low-income housing is in short supply in Kalamazoo.

The number of new homes being built during the study period dropped each year, from 1,867 built in 2004 to 470 built in 2012.

"Taken together, these data suggest that both the availability and affordability of good housing options in the Kalamazoo area declined over recent years," the report says. "Additionally, with fewer new home options in the area, it is likely that people looking for homes or who rent homes are choosing increasingly from older existing homes, which are likely more expensive to maintain and less efficient with respect to utilities."

Anderson estimates that there are about 5,000 to 6,000 units of affordable housing distributed among 63 developments in the county. And one-third of those are senior housing.

The need for assistance in paying for or maintaining affordable housing in the Kalamazoo area has clearly increased considerably since 2004.

LIFT has been working to address the community need for affordable housing since 1966.?

"Decent, safe, affordable housing is a critical component of a quality life and it is the basis for all else," Anderson says. "If you have a place that you can afford, and you’re not worried about it, you can go to work, you don’t have to move all the time and your kids can succeed in school. I hope people continue to recognize how important this is."

This story is abridged and reprinted with permission of Southwest Michigan’s Second Wave. Click here to read the original story.