Affordable housing has been a problem across the country for years and it can be especially problematic for aging LGBTQ+ people who, according to Rev. Dr. Roland Stringfellow of the Metropolitan Community Church – Detroit (MCC-D), can force some aging queer people to go back into the closet to find housing.
The new Raymond E. Shepherd House, an affordable LGBTQ-friendly housing project at the corner of Nine Mile and Paxton Street in Ferndale, is one way local organizations are helping to overcome this issue. After a groundbreaking ceremony Aug. 23, construction is now underway for the project, a group effort co-sponsored by MCC-D, MIGen, Affirmations, Housing Options for Older Adults Moving Towards Equity in Southeast Michigan (HOMES), Gender Identity Network Alliance and Transgender Michigan. County Executive Dave Coulter said that the desire to get this project done has existed ever since he became the mayor of Oakland County.
“Even though Oakland County is a very wealthy county in general, 40 percent of Oakland County residents are housing insecure. It’s an issue not just in Ferndale or Pontiac, but across the county,” Coulter said. He added that he wants to encourage more projects like this through Oakland County’s Housing Trust Fund. “I knew this as mayor: Not everybody wants a single family home. People want options and choices of where they live. What I think we need to do a better job of across the county is giving people a variety of options – apartments, condos, townhouse, single family or affordable housing.”
The project, a news release about the groundbreaking notes, is named after a life-long Ferndale resident, Raymond E. Shepherd. Shepherd was an out gay man and a deacon at MCC-D who also served as a volunteer at Affirmations. “Ray lived alone most of his life and longed for community where he felt safe and welcomed,” Rev. Stringfellow said in the news release. “He found those places at our church and Affirmations. It was appropriate for us to name this building in honor of his memory and his desire to see an affordable option for seniors who identify as LGBTQ+.”
“This has been a project that has been seven years in the making. I’ve been passionate about providing affordable housing for older adults since I heard the story of a transgender individual who had to go back into the closet in order to get housing,” said Rev. Stringfellow at the groundbreaking. “That individual ended up taking their own life.”
The four-story building is located on a recovered brownfield site. It will house 53 one- and two-bedroom units and offer on-site amenities like laundry facilities.
No applications have been accepted yet. Prospective tenants can visit fccommunities.org, which will stay updated with information about the application process. The building is expected to be complete by the fall of next year.
“There will be an interest list to sign up. Once you’re on that list, you’ll be able to keep up with construction schedules, the pre-leasing process and so on,” said Joshua Wilmoth, president of Full Circle Communities, who is partnering with MCC-D to develop the project. “Generally about four to six months before completion is when we send out notices [saying] ‘Please apply now.’ And as people apply, they will be on a waitlist broken down by their income levels and family size so we can pair the right folks with the right unit for their needs.”
The apartments will be available for tenants making between 30 to 60 percent of the Area Median Income (AMI), according to Wilmoth. AMI is a government-crafted formula to determine eligibility for affordable housing.
Rep. Haley Stevens (D – Michigan) said the project “represents so much of the needs that we have here in Oakland County. I am working on the affordable housing tax credit in Congress, for the Equality Act. So, I see this project as representing so much [of] what I’m working on in Congress. I can’t wait to brag about it in the halls of Congress.”
Some prospective tenants expressed concerns about parking at an info session held after the groundbreaking. The size of the lot dictated the limited parking available, and Rev. Stringfellow said that it is presumed that some of the tenants will no longer be driving. Furthermore, it is intended that the bus routes along Nine Mile will provide ample transportation options for tenants.
“I think it’s wonderful. It’s very needed, and it’s been a dream of MCC as a whole,” said B.C. Abad-Murphy Cabangbang, a 34-year MCC-D congregant. “We’ve always envisioned a place where gays can age and be out in old age because sometimes seniors have a tendency to go into a straight community where they have to temper themselves or go back in the closet because they don’t know how they’re going to be received. So here, it’s an inclusive place where everybody’s welcome. That’s the dream of America, right?”
If the project goes smoothly, Stringfellow is planning to launch similar projects across Metro Detroit.