Low-income housing at 9100 Gratiot part of partnership to improve quality of life for struggling Detroiters

DETROIT — For those on a fixed income with limited mobility, every day presents its share of challenges. For many people in Detroit and across the country, days are spent just trying to get around. 

Getting to the grocery store, to the doctor's office or to other appointments are a struggle for people with disabilities. And in Detroit, the birthplace of the auto industry, many people do not own a car.

For people like Alisa Estes, this is life, every day. 

Thanks to the Detroit Catholic Pastoral Alliance, a faith-based nonprofit that provides housing for low-income Detroiters, Estes' life is a little easier these days.

“It’s a wonderful thing,” she says. “I’m one of the many who’s benefited.”

Its latest project, a $9.5 million mixed-use affordable housing development at 9100 Gratiot past Eastern Market, opened in May. It provides low-rent housing for dozens of people, and features 36 one- and two-bedroom apartment units, as well as commercial space. 

The project was funded with the help of low-income housing tax credits from the federal government, and developed in partnership with MHT Housing Inc., according to Curbed Detroit.

“It’s a beautiful project,” said John Thorne, executive director of the Detroit Catholic Pastoral Alliance, which also aims to strengthen residents' quality of life through community activism, social programs and spiritual and material support. 

The apartment units feature large kitchens, dark wood furnishings, a refrigerator and other appliances. 

“Just because it is for people with low incomes, doesn’t mean it can’t look nice,” Thorne said. “Those who are making the least sometimes need the most help.” 

All of the units quickly filled, with new tenants coming from all over the city, Thorne said. Rent varies for the one- and two-bedroom units, based on 30 percent on monthly income.

Estes lives in a two-bedroom unit. She doesn’t work, due to her disabilities, which include a heart condition as well as lupus. She's also recovering from a knee replacement. 

“I just started walking again,” she said. “It’s kind of hard for me. I try to get out and keep living, and not just sit around. I have some good days and some bad days, but I try to stay strong.”

Her health problems began in 2011, when she suffered a heart episode known as ventricular tachycardia. “I hit the concrete,” she said. “My daughter got me to the hospital. She saved my life.”

Now, Estes gets rides to take her where she needs to go. She’s also pretty happy with her new living situation. “It’s a beautiful place,” she said. “I think it’ll be successful.”

Christopher Bray, director of housing and development for the Detroit Catholic Pastoral Alliance, said this four-story project is an important part of the revitalization of Detroit. 

“We’ve been working to rebuild the Gratiot corridor since 1997,” Bray said. “This is an important element of that work. We feel like it’s an important service to provide. It’s part of the physical fabric of the neighborhood.”

The Detroit Catholic Pastoral Alliance began, according to its website, informally, in response to the city's 1967 riots, when a group of priests and parishioners fought to fill needs in the community. With participation from 12 city parishes, the mission has since expanded to include housing, senior and youth programs, anti-racism training and community service. 

In the past 15 years, the nonprofit has invested $40 million into the community. 

“We work on the fronts of racism, along with working with youth and seniors,” Thorne said. “We provide anti-racism workshops at parishes, teaching people how it started and how it exists today.”

Many in the community are willing to offer whatever they can for others, Thorne said. 

“They try to help. They may not have the money, so they give their time. We’re all in this together,” he said.

The newest housing development is located near Interstate 94, between Belvidere and Holcomb St. It’s close to one of the alliance’s other housing initiatives, 8900 Gratiot, which opened in 2014. 

On July 22, the Michigan State Housing Development Authority announced another of the alliance's projects, a planned 25-unit development at 258 East Milwaukee Ave., would receive a $570,203 tax credit. 

“The people are ecstatic,” Thorne said. “They’re completely grateful.”

While she works to get herself back on track, Estes has faith in God that everything will work out. 

“My faith helps me a lot. I asked God to keep me safe and lay hands on me and my daughter, my granddaughter who’s 18, and my baby grandson, who’s 3 months,” she said.

As for the Detroit Catholic Pastoral Alliance, Thorne said the group will continue to work to provide for people like Estes and improve Detroit, one block at a time. 

“We want to keep the engine moving, pushing it to new heights,” Thorne said. “We’re here for the long haul.”


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