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Ugly ducklings become gorgeous swans at two affordable housing properties in Michigan.


(Woda Cooper Companies, Inc Update July 19, 2019)

It almost sickened him. When Craig Patterson, Woda Cooper Companies’ Senior Vice President and lead developer in Michigan, first walked through Lawrence Downs and Decatur Downs, he knew something had to be done to help the people living at the properties. 
“Residents were living in despicable conditions,” recalls Patterson of his first visit in 2014 to the two complexes located just 12 miles apart in the small towns of Lawrence and Decatur in southwest Michigan.

The 48 unit apartment community was in poor repair, outdated, and inefficient.

Each property was comprised of six apartment buildings with 48 units, both built in 1974. Patterson saw striking evidence of years of deterioration from deferred maintenance and neglectful management. The roofs needed replacing and units were rundown with dilapidated flooring and walls, outdated windows, missing baseboards, and inefficient and poorly maintained kitchen appliances and bathroom fixtures. “Of the many pre-existing apartment communities we’ve acquired in Michigan, these were the absolute worst,” said Patterson. 

Furthermore, several of the residents had disabilities but each complex offered only minimal accessibility features. “Residents with mobility challenges were extremely restricted in where they could live and which neighbors they could visit,” said Patterson. 

He knew Woda Cooper had the expertise and resources to make dramatic impacts at both properties. So, the Woda Cooper development team went to work on a rehabilitation proposal. After two attempts, we were awarded tax credits and both properties were acquired in 2017. 
Not surprisingly, Decatur Downs and Lawrence Downs deteriorated further in the period before credits were awarded. Even worse, when Woda Cooper’s property management arm, Woda Management & Real Estate, LLC, took over operations even before construction began, they quickly discovered another nasty problem. On top of all the other issues, both properties had become severely infested with bed bugs. 

Addressing the infestation problem turned into a frustrating, 90-day loss in the construction schedule before demolition could be started. Furthermore, as construction progressed, more challenges cropped up. We realized that utility lines were located inappropriately, subfloors and framing were termite-infested and compromised, and a host of other concealed conditions would make construction more time-consuming and costly than anticipated. Woda Construction, Inc. persevered with each challenge. 

Fast forward to 2019: the ugly ducklings have become swans. Both Decatur Downs and Lawrence Downs have been totally rehabilitated, with new roofs, siding, windows, kitchens, flooring, plumbing, electrical systems, insulation, and new high efficiency HVAC systems. Fresh, new landscaping is being installed and free-standing community buildings have been constructed at both sites. 

“The most important thing that has been accomplished is that residents now have safe, affordable, modernized apartments that are poised to serve the communities for years to come,” said Patterson. 

We could not have completed these renovations without the assistance and the Villages of Decatur and Lawrence and the support of our financial partners. The Michigan State Housing Development Authority (MSHDA), awarded tax credits of $748,500 annually over ten years, or $7,485,000 in total. The credits allowed us to raise $7,129,840 in equity from our investor, Alliant Capital. Park National Bank provided construction financing, and Bellwether Enterprise provided permanent debt.

We appreciate the willingness of each of our financial partners to get involved in small properties like Lawrence Downs and Decatur Downs. Without intervention, it is doubtful that the 96 apartments would have remained habitable much longer, and many of the residents living there would be homeless. As a mission-driven affordable housing developer, builder, and management company, Woda Cooper is gratified to have been able to drastically improve the living conditions of these families.

Before rehabilitation residents with mobility challenges had no choice but to navigate steps at entrances.
There are are now five fully-accessible apartments with barrier free entrances for those who need them in each community. 
High efficiency heating systems and wall-mounted air conditioners were updated in all units. In past, many units didn’t have working air conditioners.
New self-standing community center with clubrooms have been built at each property.