Delaware Manors new 36 unit addition going up

July 14, 2012
| By Pete Daly |
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"Quite an accomplishment" is how Mike Houseman of Wolverine Building Group sums up the 36-unit, $3.5 million construction project his company is putting up for Delaware Manor. The facility is on Delaware Street a few blocks south of downtown Grand Rapids at South Division Avenue.

Construction began this spring and the facility is scheduled to begin occupancy in December, but Houseman, president of Wolverine's North America Division, is most impressed by the three-year effort by Delaware Manor management to obtain the $3.5 million HUD grant last year for the new facility, to be called Delaware Heights.

"There was a lot of competition" for the HUD funding, he noted.

Designed by architectural firm DTS Winkelmann, Delaware Heights is a three-story building adjacent to the original Delaware Manor, which will total 35,500 square feet. It was fully funded by the grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development — one of only two HUD grants made for facilities of its type in Michigan that year. The other is in Flint.

Jim Reyers, vice president of Wolverine's North America Division and the project manager at Delaware Heights, said it is one of very few HUD new-construction projects underway in western Michigan and one of the bigger projects Wolverine has underway here. He said the project will employ about 100 people by the time it is completed.

Delaware Manor is owned by Citizens for Better Living, a Michigan nonprofit affiliated with the Seventh Day Adventists. CBL also has a HUD-subsidized residential facility for low-income seniors in southeast Michigan. The nonprofit was founded years ago and is still led by the Rev. John and Melinda Grier, who once lived in Grand Rapids but now live in the Detroit area.

Paragon Management Inc., based in western Oakland County, took over management of Delaware Manor several years ago, which had been deemed a "troubled property." In 2010, the National Affordable Housing Management Association announced that Delaware Manor and another facility in Boston were tied for first place in the organization's national Outstanding Turnaround of a Troubled Property award.

Margaret Davey, the president of Paragon, is pleased to take a bow for that recognition from NAHMA. Davey manages HUD-subsidized low-income apartment buildings throughout Michigan, and also manages the Meals on Wheels program covering Livingston County and western Oakland County.

"I'm serving seniors and I love it," said Davey, whose enthusiasm for her work is readily apparent.

As for the Delaware Heights addition, "there was just this need for it," she said. "Here people were, knocking on our door, and we had all this property" available next to Delaware Manor.

She said the HUD grant is "kind of like a gift to the nonprofit" that built Delaware Manor in the first place. Davey praised the hard work of Paragon staff accountant Janeen Wiltse, who wrote the grant request, and said she is convinced the HUD decision to grant their request "is based on the fact that we have award-winning buildings."

Davey went with the Griers to Washington, D.C., last year when the grant was formally presented by HUD.

Before Paragon came on the scene, Delaware Manor "needed a little help and some life, so we came in," said Davey. As a management company, she said, "I want to do more for the people than just collect the rent."

There is definitely life at Delaware Manor. Davey installed a computer room equipped with donated PCs, but there is also an instructor to help residents learn how to use the equipment and the Internet, so it's more than just a place for them to spend time.

Meals are provided five days a week by Kent County Meals on Wheels, said Davey.

Also on staff is a service coordinator, who advises residents when they have problems with things such as phone bills. "We just offer all kinds of things for the people," she added.

Davey is very good at finding bargain-priced furnishings and décor for the facility at antique shops, and she has a lot of people who keep her in mind when they have something to donate. Someone, in fact, donated a 60-inch flatscreen TV, which is now set up with a Wii bowling game.

Nearly 60 people live in the 49 Delaware Manor units, including a few married couples, said Davey. It is fully occupied and there is a waiting list of those age 62 or older who want to live there and qualify for subsidized rent. The rent is $500 a month.

Davey said the HUD application took months to put in written form and ultimately was "like 5 inches thick."

"I love working with the Grand Rapids HUD office," she said. The local HUD staff reviews the Delaware Manor budget and "they review us. They come out to walk through the building. They look at our paperwork. We have to submit papers and things every month. It's very involved, but we have kind of got it down pat," she said.

Davey said when Delaware Manor won the HUD grant for its new addition, some people wondered how a small management company could achieve such an accomplishment.

"It's based on the fact that we work hard," she said. "This is my 25th year in business. They know I would do what I said I would do."

Davey has high praise for Wolverine Building Group, which has also done work at Paragon-managed subsidized housing properties in southeast Michigan.

"They do the best work," said Davey. And Mike Houseman, she said, "goes above and beyond."

The people at Wolverine are "wonderful partners," said Davey.

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