Block club fighting developer's low-income housing plans

The Virginia Park Block Club is fighting a losing battle with a big time developer's plans for low income housing in their neighborhood.

"We're not going to stand idly by while this developer who has a poor track record of mismanagement around town enriches herself at the expense of neighborhood stability," said Jeff Cowin, president of the block club.

The group is sending a strong message - "Not in my backyard." 

"It hasn't worked in the past, so trying the same thing all over again - why would we assume to get anything different than what we've been getting," said Virginia Park resident Butler Benton. "(There is a term for that) insanity."

But developer Kathy Makino Leipsitz doesn't agree.

She bought her 59 Seward in 2011. The block club says it could not get a meeting with her for two years and when it finally did, members say they were told something different.

"We were misled," Cowin said. "We were told this building here, 59 Seward, was going to be a boutique hotel and market rate apartments."

"The next day she submitted a high percentage low income housing for 59 Seward," said Paul Mack, block club president.

And their tax dollars are helping foot the bill. 

The Michigan State Housing Development Authority is providing $2 million dollars for the project,despite the fact the block club has been voicing their concerns for two years.

"Their criteria for awarding the money, they did not take the neighborhood into consideration," said Daisy Benton, longtime Virginia Park resident.

"The sad part is they won't see the benefits until the project is completed," said Leipsitz. 

Leipsitz says she never promised to turn 59 Seward into a boutique hotel and disagrees with concerns that the Virginia Park's neighborhood's rise could be derailed by low income housing.

"I think they'll realize what a nice addition it is to the street," she said. "To have 98 senior apartments rather than a vacant boarded building."

She says the work she's already done rehabbing historic buildings like at 112 Seward, is proof

"Ms. Makino has good development practices," said Lawrence Williamson from Midtown Detroit Incorporated, who added that's only half the battle.

"Our concern with Kathy is she's not managing them well," he said. "If you look at some of our properties on Seward including that building itself - windows are wide open, bricks are falling off into the right of way, windows are broken."

"If you can spend millions of dollars developing these properties, spend a fraction of that to maintain them," Williamson said.

One example could be the River Terrace Apartments.

FOX 2 showed the leaking ceilings and black mold in this Leipsitz-owned complex in a report last week. 

Her response:

"It wasn't in anyone's occupied unit. you were looking a hallway to a 100-year-old boiler room," Leipsitz said. 

FOX 2: "We saw black mold in at least three occupied units."

"Well like I said, we're doing a $5 million dollar renovation on the building," Leipsitz said. "It will be beautiful when it's done."

And that will probably be the case here. It's just that neighbors aren't buying it and believe the cycle of blight and crime will continue.

At a private meeting both sides Tuesday night the block club tried to get an attorney from MHSDA to take back the money it is providing for the development project. 

Chances are, it's not going to happen and the block club will not have a legal argument to stop it. 
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