Community leaders and supporters in Detroit gathered for the grand opening of The Freelon at Sugar Hill in Detroit’s historic midtown area on September 22. Project developers Sonya Mays, president and CEO of Develop Detroit and Aaron Gorstein, president and CEO of the Boston-based nonprofit developer Preservation of Affordable Housing (POAH) were joined by project partners, along with Nnenna Freelon, widow of the late architect Phil Freelon, to formally open the $36 million project which transformed a previously vacant acre of land into a 68 unit new mixed-income residential apartments with 11,000 square feet of commercial space.
A joint venture between Develop Detroit and POAH, The Freelon was one of the final projects to be designed by Phil Freelon, who passed away in 2019. The famed architect, who led the design team for the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, DC and was also involved with the new design for Detroit’s Motown Museum, was approached by Develop Detroit’s Sonya Mays who had long been an admirer of Freelon’s aesthetic and believes in doing, as Freelon himself once said, “projects that enhance the lives of everyday people, like campus buildings, libraries, museums…,” and now Detroit’s latest residential community.
“We saw this as an ideal opportunity to develop a unique community to contribute to the lives of Detroiters” said Mays. “The Freelon brings more than housing to the community, it’s rich in history, rooted in culture and provides economic stability. Beauty and a luxury experience can be provided in affordable living to Detroiters.”
The development, in the heart of Sugar Hill, once a mainstay of Black culture, grounds itself in the arts and jazz of the community. The Freelon features the work of mix-media collage artist Judy Bowman whose original work is displayed on the building’s exterior, while interior artwork from Detroit-based Black artists was curated by Asia Hamilton with Norwest Gallery of Art.
Aaron Gornstein, president and CEO of POAH, “POAH was proud to partner with Develop Detroit, the mayor, city officials and the many community partners to create this development that will provide high quality, affordable housing for Detroiters of all means and walks of life.”
The residential community features studios, one- and two-bedroom apartments ranging from 475 to 1,000 square feet. The development also includes a 160-space parking garage for residents and visitors along with green alleyways, all anchored by existing commercial and retail space like Seva, Socra Tea and the N’namdi Center for Contemporary Art, along with new introductions to the retail community: Tracy Reese’s Hope for Flowers, Cure Nail House and Haraz Coffee.
Of the new residential units, 20 are designated as affordable housing for residents earning up to 80% of the area’s median income, including 14 units for low-income veterans. The Freelon partnered with Volunteers of America (VOA) and the nearby John D. Dingell VA Medical Center (VA) to provide housing and support services to veterans served through the VASH program. The units were expertly tailored to the needs of veterans by Interior Designers Coalition for Change (IDCFC), an all-volunteer organization that provided interior design and furnishings for all 14 veterans’ apartments using trauma-informed design best practices.
“With a significant allocation of $14.5 million in New Markets Tax Credits, which brought in nearly 44 percent of the financing for this development, Building America is making a lasting commitment to help create housing, particularly affordable housing for veterans, and jobs in a district of Detroit that has enormous historic significance,” said Building America’s CEO Harpreet Peleg. “The revitalization of Midtown means the city and its partners are attacking a community’s high levels of poverty and unemployment with meaningful investment and vision.”
“POAH is honored to help bring more quality, sustainable housing and access to opportunity to Detroiters,” added Rodger Brown, managing director of real estate development at POAH.