In 1980, downtown Grand Rapids was a far different place. The magnificent restoration of the Pantlind Hotel into the Amway Grand Plaza had been completed. Other major construction projects were underway. Both fueled real estate speculation and caused apprehension that our downtown neighbors, primarily low-income individuals and families at that time, might be pushed out of the neighborhood: displaced by gentrification.
At the same time, the number of individuals living on our downtown streets was growing; a partial consequence of the deinstitutionalization of the mentally ill in Michigan. To address these growing concerns, seven downtown churches and two non-profit organizations came together to establish a new non-profit organization to provide affordable housing and vital support services for individuals and families. This new entity was incorporated in 1980 as Dwelling Place.
While the story of Dwelling Place is unique to Grand Rapids, nonprofit groups similar to Dwelling Place are present in many communities across the United States. These specialized nonprofit organizations are also referred to as community development corporations (CDC’s) for the mission driven work they do to improve the quality of life in communities and neighborhoods.
The stock-in-trade of CDC’s is almost always housing and economic development aimed at creating better neighborhoods. The real impact, however, is always on people. Today, Dwelling Place owns and manages more than 1,100 apartments and homes in 25 housing communities throughout West Michigan, serving households with a wide variety of incomes and backgrounds. Most recently, the historic renovation of the former EE Fell Junior High School in Holland for senior housing and the renovation of the former Madison Square Apartments (now Reflections, a Senior Housing Community) are both examples of continued efforts to engage with communities and neighborhoods to make a difference.
Today, Dwelling Place also provides critical support services to more than 400 residents to ensure they are able to maintain their permanent housing after facing many challenges related to homelessness, mental illness and other disabling circumstances. Business related support services are also part of the Dwelling Place programs for artists in live work spaces and a wide variety of other commercial tenants. With a combination of more than 75 office, retail, commercial and live/work spaces, Dwelling Place continues to serve as a catalyst in the growth and revitalization efforts of neighborhoods.
Many things have changed in 32 years. What has not changed is the commitment by Dwelling Place to shape a community vision that embraces the many benefits of development while at the same time finding new ways to integrate all downtown neighbors into that community vision.