Habitat for Humanity to build six affordable units on land once eyed by Dollar General
Photo: Emily Kelp and her children, Jayden, 8, Piper, 4, and Jenna, 2, “break ground” on the Maple City Crossings affordable housing units as Kristina Eggeman, her eighth grade daughter Keely, and baby Vivian look on. Both the Kelps and Eggemans will live in these housing units.
By Jacob Wheeler
Here’s an affordable housing success story in Leelanau County.
Habitat for Humanity broke ground Nov. 16 on three duplex units that, as soon as a year from now, will house six families at the Maple City Crossings development at the corner of Maple Street and Western Avenue. Kal Excavating is preparing the two-acre parcel for the project.
That’s the land, previously owned by Marilyn Flaska, where Dollar General sought in 2019 to build a small-box discount store. Kasson Township zoning laws, and staunch community opposition spearheaded by neighbor Scott Mills, stopped that sale and development. (Visit GlenArbor.com to read our coverage of Maple City’s effort to keep out Dollar General.)
Habitat for Humanity has worked together with the Leelanau County Land Bank Authority to build other affordable homes in Maple City. In 2019, a veteran family moved into a nearby home after the Land Bank removed a blighted structure following a foreclosure. At the end of this year another new homeowner, Britny Schwartz and two sons, 12, and 7, will move into Maplewood Commons, across County Road 616 from Broomstack Kitchen and Taphouse. Next year, Habitat for Humanity — Grand Traverse Region (Habitat GTR) will build 14 homes together with partner New Waves Church at the corner of M-72 and Bugai Road.
The addition of young, working families is good news for Maple City, whose population has dwindled to 113 residents (according to the 2020 Census), down from 207 a decade ago, as families age or move away. Maple City lost its grocery store when Gabe’s Market closed in 2019. The community once known then as “Peg Town” enjoyed its heyday in the late 1800s during northern Michigan’s timber boom when William Parks and J.T. Sturtevant built a shoe peg factory on land containing several hundred acres of maple timber. Maple City received a U.S. Post Office in 1875.
“It’s awesome to see the community growing and adding more density,” said Frank Siepker, engineering and operations manager for Cherryland Electric and president of Habitat GTR’s board of directors. “Six new families in Maple City will add vibrancy to the community.”
Two families slated to move into Maple City Crossings in late 2022 attended the Nov. 16 ceremonial groundbreaking. Kristina Eggeman and Emily Kelp, both single mothers, took turns lifting shovelfuls of dirt while their kids picked up spades and helped out. Christina’s six-week-old daughter Vivian cried periodically during the event—thus offering the natural soundtrack for a community with young children.
Christina currently rents a house near Cherry Bend Road on the other side of Leelanau County, where she lives with Vivien and her daughter Keely, who attends eighth grade at Glen Lake School. Christina, who works at Incline Foot Associates in Traverse City, grew up in nearby Cedar and is excited to return to her old stomping grounds.
“This will be the first home we’ve owned,” she said. “It means a lot, the security and stability. Having a place to call our own.”
Keely, 13, is eager to live closer to Glen Lake School—which is four miles from Maple City Crossings. Her mom currently drives her to school every morning.
“I’ll get to take the bus there. It’s cool because I get to be near my friends more.”
Christina had heard about Habitat for Humanity as a high school student. But it wasn’t until her mom, who lives downstate in Norton Shores, noticed a local advertisement to live at Maple City Crossings, that she realized she could live in Leelanau County, where the housing market grows more cost prohibitive by the week. Christina went online, printed the application and submitted it.
The other single mother, Emily, has three children: an 8-year-old son, Jayden, a 4-year-old daughter, Piper, and a 2-year-old daughter, Jenna. The currently stay with Emily’s mom in Traverse City. She works full-time at a carwash and takes care of her kids in the evenings.
“I never thought I’d have the opportunity to own a home,” said Emily, who is 27. “I’m so grateful and happy that I’ll have a place for my kids to grow up. I’m excited to have my own room and space to make our own new holiday traditions together.”
“I love small towns and this beautiful area,” added Emily.
Habitat GTR executive director Wendy Irvin explained that families are chosen based on three criteria: their need for housing; their ability to pay their mortgage, and their willingness to partner with Habitat, which includes contributing 275 “sweat equity” hours working on their home, volunteering for community organizations or helping at Habitat’s ReStore. Families also work with a mentor and take homeowner education classes.
“Our partner families are hardworking. They see a vision of having a better life for their children,” said Irvin. “We build it together with the agreement that, after they put in the time, they’ll have an opportunity to buy it at a price that’s affordable to them.”
Habitat quantifies the monthly mortgage as 30% of the family’s household income.
That puts the price of a Habitat home at far below the market value for Leelanau County, where the supply of affordable homes is almost nonexistent even though the demand is enormous, and not just for working-class families.
“It used to be only families of four who we served. Now we’re seeing more single applicants because the need for local housing is so great,” said Irvin. “People are desperate for housing. They’re living in trailers through the cold winter months. They’re living in cars or in basements.”
At the groundbreaking on Nov. 16, Pastor Chris Lane from Central United Methodist Church in Traverse City offered a land acknowledgement honoring the Ojibwe and Chippewa natives who lived here before white settlers came. Then he blessed the land and dabbed the hands of the Eggeman and Kelp families with frankincense.
“In the Bible, when someone is about to take a journey, they are anointed with oil as a way of saying ‘God’s blessing goes before you’,” said Lane, as Christina’s daughter Vivien began to cry. “I pray God’s rich blessings on this land, that this is where families feel safe, where they invite friends and neighbors into their homes. Where those who are crying feel comforted.”
Following the blessing, Emily Kelp’s children picked up their spades and began to dig in the dirt where their first home will soon stand.