Case Study

Transfiguration Place Apartments

5 min read

It Took A Village to Turn An Old School Into Housing  

A collaboration between the City and Archdiocese of Detroit featuring an extensive consultation with area residents has resulted in the redevelopment of an old, vacant Catholic school building into 19 affordable housing units by Cinnaire Solutions and Ethos Development Partners. 

Cinnaire Solutions, a nonprofit developer partner and unit of Cinnaire, based in Lansing, MI, touts its engagement with the communities it develops in both before and after construction. 

In the case of Transfiguration Apartments, Cinnaire held meetings with local residents “to ensure their feedback would be incorporated into the building. 

“Once selected as co-developers, Ethos Development Partners and Cinnaire Solutions held a series of sessions with the community to envision, critique and form a shared understanding of what the site would become,” according to Cinnaire.  

“This project is about the community coming together to find solutions to both our need for affordable housing and the question of what to do with the many historic, but unused, buildings that dot our city,” says Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan. 

A readout of a lively meeting between the city Housing and Revitalization Department (HRD) and the local community on May 17, 2017 shows how extensive local participation in the project would be. 

Asked “What input will the community have in the decision process and in the final decisions of what the development will include and look like?” The HRD answered that the Selection Committee would have two community members.  

“Once a proposal is accepted, the predevelopment process will include multiple additional community meetings where residents can provide further input on what the final plan for the development should look like.” 

“Our value proposition is to listen, to execute and to offer solutions,” says Chris Laurent, president of Cinnaire 

Solutions. “There was a real alignment of interests” between the city and the Archdiocese and residents that Cinnaire reacted to. 

Not the First Readaptive Project 
Ethos Development Partners, based in Detroit, has worked on a number of readaptive use projects to create more affordable housing in Detroit, says President Joseph Heaphy. “Transfiguration has long served as an anchor of this neighborhood, and now it will be again. We believe this project will serve as a model and a template for what can be done and the potential that lies in communities across Detroit.” 

“As Detroit continues to grow from the inside out, neighbors living within those communities will have an equal shot to live there,” says Laurent. “We want to make sure these projects work for all Detroiters.” 

Both Low Income Housing Tax Credits (LIHTC) and Historic Preservation Tax Credits were used in the $7.2 million readaptive Transfiguration Place Apartments project. About $3 million in funding came from tax credit equity, with Alliant Capital as the investor. 

Other sources of financing included a mortgage from Michigan State Housing Development Authority, city and state HOME funds, Detroit Community Block Development Grant money and a deferred developer fee. 

The two-story Transfiguration School building was built in 1906 and served as school and church in various capacities until 2014 and could have been a real challenge to rehab. “Schools and hospitals are some of the toughest conversions,” Laurent says. “But the building was relatively straightforward.” 

Seventeen of the 19 apartments in the 20,000-plus square foot building are one-bedroom, with the remaining being two-bedroom, Laurent notes. “They are very habitable,” he observes, with big windows and a nice overall atmosphere. 

“It’s quality housing for anyone choosing to live in rentals.” 

Easy Access to Downtown Detroit 
The neighborhood is a growing one, Laurent says, nicely accessible to downtown Detroit for commuting or shopping. 

The Detroit Housing Commission is providing project- based vouchers to keep rents affordable. Affordability is guaranteed for 45 years, and no resident will pay more than 30 percent of income for rent. Area median incomes top out at 40 percent AMI, Laurent says. 

Construction on the project took 11 months, according to Laurent. O’Brien Construction of Troy, MI was the contractor. Certificate of occupancy happened late last year and move-ins are on or ahead of schedule, he says.  

Cinnaire is now working with Ethos on new projects in Detroit and Camden, NJ, says Laurent. 

Many churches across the country are looking at turning old buildings or empty space into housing. There is even an acronym for the movement, playing on the famous acronym NIMBY (Not In My Back Yard) with YIGBY for “Yes in God’s Back Yard.” There is also a 

Tax Credit Advisor featured such a development in “Affordable Housing in God’s Backyard,” September 2020, with empty land belonging to Bethel AME Church in San Diego being turned into 16 apartments for veterans and the homeless.’s ambitious goal is 3,000 units of housing on church land in five years. 

Cinnaire is “excited” to do more work in Detroit, with Laurent calling its partners on Transfiguration Place “good solid people and it makes it easier and more pleasurable to work with them.”  

Mark Fogarty has covered housing and mortgages for more than 30 years. A former editor at National Mortgage News, he has written extensively about tax credits.