Marcia Spivey is a Detroit attorney, community advocate, and grassroots developer. Last August, she attended the Real Estate Development Boot Camp, a multi-part training program providing tools for developing affordable housing within the state. The Boot Camp is one of Community Economic Development Association (CEDAM)
’s programs. She says that attending the Boot Camp proved invaluable. The connections she made throughout the program continue to propel her goal of opening up The Hub, Laundromat and Community Center.
“I live in District 3 on the eastside of Detroit where there is not very much development just yet,” she says. “I decided that I didn’t need to wait for developers to come in and develop my neighborhood, and meet the needs that I myself can get engaged in.”
Marcia Spivey, Detroit attorney, community advocate, and grassroots developer.
Spivey is the first college graduate, the first to hold a doctoral degree, and the first homeowner in her family. Funding a multi-million dollar investment project was not something that was discussed around her dinner table, but she is excited and proud to help build generational wealth for her family and invest in her community alike.
The Boot Camp is one way CEDAM, a nonprofit trade association, addresses those needs by providing developers, stakeholders, and community residents with training and tools.
Being in the midst of other experienced developers in Kalamazoo who weren’t attached to multi-million dollar investors was inspiring for Spivey. Seeing other average, everyday folks who addressed needs within their own community helped build on her project’s next steps.
“One of the presenters, they said, ‘Listen, this can seem like a very daunting task, especially for those of us who don’t have a background in urban planning, housing development,’” Spivey says. “The one commonality that he saw was that developers don’t quit; they just keep going. One project may not work out, or a building you’re looking at might not work out, but if you keep going, your project will come to fruition.”
In August 2022, Spivey submitted her proposal for developing the laundromat, cafe, and community center in the Denby neighborhood. Her proposal was accepted in January 2023, and she currently has a purchase agreement, site control, and is working hard on next steps. The former middle-class, blue-collar community was hit hard in 2008. The mainly African American neighborhood has a high violence rate and a low income.
“There is a 23% vacancy rate … a lot of blight and abandoned homes,” she says. “That’s an area I grew up in. I walked those streets, shopping at those stores, and it’s nothing like that anymore.”
Rendering of The Hub, a laundromat, cafe, and community center planned for the Denby neighborhood.
Spivey hopes her development acts as a catalyst, bringing more investors to the area to help rehab the former beautiful brick homes.
“Having a laundromat that can help fund the community center will help the process of changing the mindset and bringing resources and opportunity to the neighborhood,” Spivey says. “That’s the goal, for it to be a community space where you can do a trifecta of cleaning – you can clean your clothes, you can get a smoothie in the cafe to clean your body, and you can gain resources and connect with opportunities to become a first-time homeowner, learn about banking, money management.”
Spivey encourages fellow residents with a vision for a building or a development to follow their dreams and connect locally with resources.
“There’s a strong ecosystem in the city of Detroit of developers who support one another," Spivey says. “They are there to walk you through it.”
Grassroots developers gain valuable insights and tools
Michigan’s housing shortage has many layers, and with that comes a variety of diverse, possible solutions to help address the demand of each unique community’s needs.
“CEDAM’s Real Estate Development Boot Camp actually has its origins with the start of our organization,” says Emily Reyst, CEDAM director of communications and training. “When our founders were creating a trade association for community development, one of the driving factors was to build a pipeline of affordable housing developers in Michigan.”
Emily Reyst, CEDAM director of communications and training.
The Boot Camp training is geared towards emerging developers, new staff members at longtime nonprofit affordable housing development organizations, stakeholders, and community members. Reyst says previous participants have included equity investors, municipal leaders, development departments, and residents interested in creating change in their respective neighborhoods.
“The housing crisis that we have in Michigan has many layers to it, and we see the Boot Camp’s role as filling the gap for the number of people that are actually able to carry out this work,” Reyst says. “We’re at a unique time where we are seeing more resources for affordable housing in our state. It’s a really exciting time, but we need to ensure that across the state, we have developers ready and able to make these projects happen.”
With inflation impacting construction costs, it often takes more time and money to complete development projects. No single, one-size-fits-all solution fits the types of housing legally allowed or needed in different communities.
Part one of the 2023 Boot Camp took participants to Kalamazoo for three days of intense learning, tours, and networking.
“We got to hear municipal leaders and leading developers share how they’re approaching affordable housing in their community,” Reyst says. “We toured different projects, and we actually hosted that first three-part training at one of our member developments, Hollander Development Corporation
. They’re starting a new organization called Edison Community Partners. Those three guys led much of our training and got to utilize their own projects as case studies.”
At the end of the training, participants pitched a final presentation to funders for feedback. Reyst considers this one of the most valuable parts of the program.
“We encourage everybody to come with a plot of land or existing building to the training so that they can put together a sample project based on all of their learning,” she says. “They pitch it to folks from Michigan State Housing Development Authority
, equity investors, and bankers who would be investing in or approving their project. They get real-time feedback on the financial soundness of their project, aspects to recalibrate, and how to make their project as compelling to funders and the community as possible.”
Although the process of real estate development is not linear, programs like this and other tools from CEDAM provide resources and connections that keep developments moving along. CEDAM members pay $899 for the training; non-members pay $1399. Scholarships are available. The 2024 boot camp is on the books for next year, with a scheduled date to be announced.
“There's a 100-year history of Americans improving their communities, so if you’re a practitioner, it’s important to know where we came from and the practices as we try to apply them today,” says Brian Reilly, lead designer of Boot Camp curriculum and one of the educators at the event. “The State of Michigan is a leader in the United States in incorporating and experimenting with small-scale development.”
Reilly has a long history of economic development across the country, has led integration initiatives focused on community development addressing issues of poverty, and has experience in planning and sustainability. He notes that the Boot Camp program starts with taking a look back in order to see how to move forward properly.
CEDAM’s Emily Reyst with Boot Camp graduate Christine Holmes, Woodbridge Neighborhood Development director of policy and property development.
Expanded curriculum addresses housing shortage
The Boot Camp’s expanded curriculum includes smaller scale real estate development and ways to fund housing with and without subsidies.
“The primary thing community developers learn from the boot camp is how to successfully structure and implement a low-income housing tax credit (LIHTC) project
,” Reilly says. “That’s the backbone of community development in America. Increasingly, small-scale, incremental development is a second track, which is complementary.”
Generally, housing development has been done with 30-300 unit increments in large, new construction buildings financed by LIHTC, Reilly notes. Single-family homes have been the majority when it comes to legalized housing developments, but cities like Kalamazoo are re-legalizing different types of housing units to include duplexes, townhomes, cottage courts, or mixed-use spaces with retail on the ground floor and apartments above.
“The Boot Camp helps people learn how to do this different kind of work,” Reilly says. “On the LIHTC side, it’s how to structure fairly complicated projects with multiple sources of financing. On the small-scale side, it’s aligning to local regulation or trying to find eligible financing.”
Reilly enjoys teaching the program, seeing the innovative work that participants are doing, helping them broaden their ideas, and witnessing the peer-to-peer learning that takes place. He hopes these conversations between participants travel back to their individual organizations, furthering discussions of new trends in revitalization, development, and placemaking across the board.
“Our mission for this training has remained the same, even though the curriculum has expanded in different ways throughout the years,” Reyst concludes. “We’ve been hosting this training for 25 years, and every year, we continue to adapt to the context of what’s happening in Michigan.”
Sarah Spohn is a Lansing native, but every day finds a new, interesting person, place, or thing in towns all over Michigan, leaving her truly smitten with the mitten. She received her degrees in journalism and professional communications and provides coverage for various publications locally, regionally, and nationally — writing stories on small businesses, arts and culture, dining, community, and anything Michigan-made. You can find her in a record shop, a local concert, or eating one too many desserts at a bakery. If by chance, she’s not at any of those places, you can contact her at [email protected].
Photos by Doug Coombe.
Marcia Spivey and The Hub photos courtesy Marcia Spivey.
Supported by FHLBank Indianapolis and the Community Economic Development Association
(CEDAM), the Block by Block series follows small-scale minority-driven development and affordable housing issues in the state of Michigan.