‘Phoenix’ affordable housing complex nears completion in midtown Muskegon

MUSKEGON, MI — A four-unit affordable housing project is nearing completion, and a ribbon-cutting took place outside the midtown property on Thursday, Oct. 1 — 10 months after construction began.

The ‘Phoenix’ apartment building, located at 380 Houston Ave. in Muskegon’s Nelson neighborhood, is a modular home, geared at offering affordable housing to working people in the city’s booming core, said Sarah Rinsema-Sybenga, the CEO of Community enCompass, the nonprofit overseeing the project.

“There’s a ton of investment happening with new, market-rate housing in the core city neighborhoods and downtown,” said Rinsema-Sybenga. “As kind of a complement to that, we want to make sure that there is affordable housing as well.”

The building is aimed at people earning 30, 50 and 80 percent of the area median income, and one tenant has already been selected for one of the four 800-square-foot units.

That person received a key in a celebration and ribbon-cutting Thursday, although the building is not yet officially move-in ready. The organization is awaiting their occupancy permit, Rinsema-Sybenga said.

“It’s imminent, it’s the next couple of days,” she said of a timeline to completion.

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The midtown neighborhood has seen significant investment in the Third Street commercial corridor and construction of market-rate homes in recent years.

That inspired the nonprofit to replace an apartment building that once stood on the lot from which the Phoenix building has now risen.

That building, also owned and administered by Community enCompass, burned down a decade ago, and it seemed that it would be financially impossible to replace, Rinsema-Sybenga said.

But watching so much development – and demolition – in the neighborhood sparked the desire “to make this project happen,” she said.

All told, construction, including purchasing the modular elements and follow-up work to get it ready, connected to utilities, and wheelchair accessible – cost about $450,000. Rinsema-Sybenga said that includes $100,000 from the nonprofit’s own reserves.

A $100,000 grant from the city – drawn from its HOME funds, a federal program – and a $250,000 grant from the Federal Home Loan Bank rounded out the funding.

Tenants can apply through Lighthouse Property Management. Two units are for families earning at or below 80% of area median income (AMI), which, according to the Michigan State Housing Development Authority (MSHDA), is $48,880 for a family of four.

One is for families earning at or below 50% of AMI, which is $30,550 for a family of four, and the last unit is for families earning below 30% of AMI, which is $18,330.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) defines “affordable housing” as housing that costs one-third of a person’s income.

The organization will work with tenants to assess what 33% of their income is, and tie their rent to that, Rinsema-Sybenga said.

Three of the units are two-bedrooms, and the fourth is a one-bedroom that is fully ADA-compliant and accessible to those with disabilities.

Affordable housing is “desperately” needed in Muskegon, Rinsema-Sybenga said, and the organization has already received some applications for the units, but is still waiting to fill three of them.

Construction began on the building with a drop of its four modular elements on Monday, Dec. 23, 2019. The development will be the first modular multifamily home in Muskegon, Kimi George, a special projects coordinator and rehab specialist at Community enCompass, told MLive at the time.

Local contractor Rudy Briggs, owner of LRS Enterprises construction in Muskegon Township, oversaw construction and implementation of the modular units, which were built and delivered from out-of-state.

The organization originally expected the building to be ready by spring, but progress was delayed because of the coronavirus pandemic, Rinsema-Sybenga said.

George previously told MLive that it took about a year and a half between the project’s ideation and the drop of the modular elements, and that modular housing is not necessarily cheaper, but are quicker to construct.

In spite of timing not going quite as planned, Rinsema-Sybenga said her organization is planning on using this modular method to build more units of affordable housing around the city.

They anticipate dropping in five modular houses, available as affordable purchases to families making between 80 and 120% of area median income, by the end of 2021.

She declined to name which addresses those homes are slated for, but said they would be built on a mix of city-owned and land bank land.

Community enCompass currently operates about 30 units of affordable housing across the Nelson and McLaughlin neighborhoods.

“We do affordable housing for a couple of reasons – one, to provide essential housing, but also to create neighbors,” Rinsema-Sybenga said.

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