A unique new housing co-op that will mix young adult refugees with native-born Americans is coming to Lansing.
Asante Co-op — its working title — it has been in the making since early 2022, evolving from conversations between Allen Neighborhood Center, Spartan Housing Cooperative and the Refugee Development Center. The collaboration will go well beyond housing to include the supportive services offered by all three agencies to the estimated 14 to 16 residents. These services include English as a second language classes, various types of job skill training, household budgeting workshops and more.
Mixing native and foreign-born people will support the adjustment of newcomers and broaden the cultural understanding of all who share the space. “The project aligns with one of our core values,” said Erika Brown-Binion, the refugee center’s executive director, which is “bridging long-time residents and newcomers so that they can develop a deeper understanding of one another.”
The new co-op will be built in the Allen Neighborhood Center complex on Kalamazoo Street between Allen and Shepherd streets. The project will cost $1.5 million, with $1 million from the state and $500,000 from the Ingham County Housing Trust Fund. “The significance of Ingham Housing Trust Fund is that it can provide funding for organizations and businesses that are creative, neighborhood-based, and do not ordinarily seek public help,” county Treasurer Alan Fox, who also chairs the trust fund, said.
Construction will begin this fall in 4,000 square feet of empty space on the center’s second floor. In addition to the residents’ private rooms, the co-op will feature a large, shared living room, dining room, kitchen and laundry. Move-in is projected for late 2024. They’ll be able to avail themselves of such services as the weekly, year-round Allen Farmers Market, the Allen Community Health Center and ELFCO (the Eastside Lansing Food Co-op), which are all part of the center.
Co-ops have been around for a very long time, dating in this country from the early 1800s. Over the last 50 years, 15 housing co-ops have been established in East Lansing, providing affordable housing to MSU students and non-students. Since the 1990s, the Spartan Housing Cooperative has launched two co-ops within Lansing. Holly Jo Sparks, Spartan Housing’s executive director, said her organization is delighted to be a part of Asante Co-op and looks forward to exploring other possibilities in Lansing. (Note that there are a few other co-ops in this city, e.g., Genesee Gardens Co-Housing and also U.S. Housing and Urban Development co-ops, none of which are affiliated with with Spartan Housing.)
Across the country, “boomer co-ops” have been attracting an older crowd. These have been established by people drawn to a living situation that provides some private space as well as communal space and a built-in support system as they age. The nearest of these are in Ann Arbor and in Frankfurt, Michigan. As far as I know, there are no boomer co-ops in Lansing (yet); however, there is an inter-generational co-op called Rivendell that is home to 72-year-old Marsha Parrott-Boyle. She “integrated” the co-op, age-wise, when she moved in a little over a year ago. A 60-something recently moved in as well. “The mix is a good idea,” Parrott-Boyle observed. “We older members have philosophies and skills that we can share as do the younger members — it’s helpful to all.” She noted that she doesn’t interact with all nine members daily because people “are busy living their lives.” But folks are close. She shared that two people in the co-op recently married and during the ceremony brought the other seven members of the co-op to the altar, explaining to gatherers that the Rivendell members are “a part of our family.” Parrott-Boyle predicted that co-ops will be “more and more discovered” by the over-55 crowd.
In just the last month, I’ve been contacted by a few different people who are exploring co-ops as a form of housing for quite distinct, populations, e.g., veterans, people with special needs, and older lesbians. These folks see co-operative ownership as a way to create a family of choice based on shared values, needs and experiences.
I’ve been promising to call a meeting of people interested in creating co-ops, opening boarding houses, building granny flats in their back yards, or otherwise empowering homeowners to help reduce the affordable housing shortage in our neighborhoods. The purpose of such a gathering would be to gauge interest, share resources, swap ideas and begin to build a network of shared housing advocates. RSVP by emailing email@example.com to join the initial meeting next week at Allen Nighborhood Center. (See InfoBox on this page.) In addition to hearing about co-ops, boarding houses and co-living spaces in the making, we will likely also discuss ways to encourage the city to revise its zoning code to reduce barriers to the “gentle densification” that an increase in these shared-use models generally brings about.
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