A $10 million-plus permanent housing project envisioned for Detroit's Chaldean Town neighborhood may instead be headed for Madison Heights.
The Chaldean Community Foundation has been talking with the Michigan State Housing Development Authority on financial incentives for a project that would bring 100 or more units of permanent housing to the neighborhood along Seven Mile Road between Woodward Avenue and John R Road.
But after two years of conversations and no firm direction from the state on the project or planning grants to help move it along, the foundation is reconsidering Madison Heights, the location it was looking at before MSHDA urged the group to consider locating the project in Detroit.
"We're looking at perhaps how we can go at this alone," said Martin Manna, president of the foundation and its parent organization, the Chaldean American Chamber of Commerce.
"If we don't have the assistance from MSHDA and others, we'll most likely have to look at Madison Heights."
There are already a large number of Chaldean residents in Madison Heights, Manna said, noting that Iraqi Chaldeans occupy 90 percent or more of the 800 units in the market-rate, Lexington Village Complex on Concord Drive between I-75 and John R Road.
The Oakland County city also presents fewer security and schooling concerns than Detroit and would be less complicated and expensive from a development standpoint since it wouldn't entail clearing abandoned structures and other intensive preparatory work, Manna said. And it wouldn't require subsidies to attract Chaldean residents, said Eric Younan, director of strategic initiatives for the foundation.
MSHDA Communications Director Katie Bach confirmed Friday the state had been talking with the Chaldean foundation about locating the housing in Detroit.
The state agency is exploring opportunities to revitalize the community bordered by the Michigan State Fairgrounds, John R, Seven Mile and Woodward, she said.
The neighborhood requires blight removal, demolition, rehabilitation of existing units, new housing units, commercial upgrades, retail, corridor upgrades, schools, parks, gardens and more.
As part of that, it would consider all plans, Bach said. She said Friday she couldn't respond directly on any financial assistance talks regarding the Chaldean foundation plan. But she said there "are no applications or deals pending for that site in Detroit by any entity, which leaves it open to redevelopment opportunities.
"The authority is just one of many with a stake in developing the area, because it would be of great benefit to Southeast Michigan from both a cultural and economic standpoint."
Bach said the Arab American and Chaldean Council is the sponsor for coordinating activities in the Chaldean Town neighborhood and is working with stakeholders in the neighborhood revitalization, including MSHDA, the Michigan Economic Development Corp. Michigan Department of Human Services and Detroit Public Schools.
The land in the area is controlled by several entities including MSHDA, the Michigan Land Bank, banks, faith-based entities, the private sector, the city of Detroit and others, she said.
The housing development expands on the social services the Chaldean Community Foundation provides for Chaldeans and others from sites in Dearborn and Sterling Heights.
It would build on other efforts to repopulate a neighborhood that used to be known for Chaldean-owned bakeries, grocery stores, dry cleaners and other businesses during the 1980s and '90s -- before many residents left to find safer neighborhoods and better schools.
The area remains home to Sacred Heart Chaldean Catholic Church, which buses in 800 or more people for mass on Sundays. With adequate security and schools, Mannabelieves the neighborhood could again attract significant numbers of Chaldean residents and entrepreneurs.
The foundation is operating on a $3 million budget for fiscal 2014, up from $2.6 million in 2013 and $1.6 million in 2012.
Last year's revenue increase came from a near-doubling of its contract with the Michigan Department of Human Services to provide support services such as immigration assistance, English-language classes and assistance in securing housing, jobs, cars and health care through the Chaldean American Association for Health Professionals.
The Lathrup Village-based Arab American and Chaldean Council has been providing similar social services and after-school programming in Chaldean Town and working to revitalize the area for more than a decade. It's built four new community/youth centers and worked with businesses to revitalize their buildings with funding from the state, said Bob Ghannam, director of special projects for ACC and its Seven Mile Project.
MSHDA wants to ensure housing development in Chaldean Town is done in an organized fashion and coordinated with other projects taking place in the neighborhood. Ann Arbor-based Penrose Village Development Corp. has built 74 units of housing in Chaldean Town since 2006, and Perfecting Church, which is constructing a new church at Seven Mile and Woodward, has plans to develop homes on vacant lots behind its church site, Ghannam said.
Like the Chaldean foundation, ACC is also preparing to move into housing development. It's been talking with MSHDA for the past year and a half about development of 25 homes or multifamily dwellings, Ghannam said.
The total cost of that project and the value of tax incentives the state will provide are still being worked out, but the project has MSHDA's support, he said. ACC hopes to break ground by fall.
"We've put together a game plan for that whole area," Ghannam said.
"MSHDA asked us if we were willing to work with the Chaldean Community Foundation, and we said our doors are open as long as they're working within the parameters of the project, (as far as) where housing should go and what type of housing."
There's a demand for both permanent housing and community center services, given that an estimated 130,000 Chaldeans are now living in the region, the foundation said, making metro Detroit home to the largest population of Chaldeans in the world outside of the Middle East.
Many Chaldeans here are refugees living in apartment complexes that aren't conducive to large families, Manna said, which is spurring the foundation to move into housing development.