Detroit's Transfiguration School set to reopen as affordable housing complex

Candice Williams
The Detroit News

Detroit — One year after crews began a $7.2 million renovation to convert the former Transfiguration School into affordable housing, the building is ready for its first residents.

The 21,500-square-foot Transfiguration Place Apartments at 13300 Syracuse houses 19 apartments, consisting of 17 one-bedroom units and a couple of two-bedroom units.

During a ribbon-cutting ceremony Monday, Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan recalled touring the building in the city's Campau/Banglatown neighborhood ahead of the renovations.

“We were in a neighborhood where people are coming back, property values are rising quickly, rents are rising quickly and there was a risk that longtime residents could be pushed out,” Duggan said. “In the middle of this was this abandoned school.”

The redevelopment, he said, was a collaboration between Detroit-based Cinnaire Solutions and Ethos Development Partners, the Detroit Housing Commission and the city's Housing and Revitalization Department as well as Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and Michigan State Housing Development Authority.

“We want to have this kind of quality housing for our longtime residents," he said. "Our residents have a better place to go, the neighborhood is stronger and we’ve reclaimed an historic building.”

The housing is geared toward residents earning less than $28,000 a year, according to the city. Project-based vouchers will be issued through the Detroit Housing Commission for the development as part of a 20-year commitment to keep the building affordable. Those interested in housing can apply through the housing commission. Residents could be moving into the building within weeks, officials said. 

The project is part of the city's ongoing effort to preserve 10,000 units of existing affordable housing and to develop 2,000 new affordable units by 2023.

Detroit Council member Scott Benson (left) shakes hands with Detroit Mayor Duggan at Transfiguration Place Apartments, a former Catholic school, after a $7.2 million conversion to affordable housing in Detroit on Monday, January 24, 2022.

"I'm excited and proud to see the fruits of everyone's labor," said Detroit City Councilman Scott Benson. "Especially the community coming together to say this is how we want to have it done, these are our priorities. ...  When you have the residents backing you this is just fantastic.”

Funding for the project was done through a mix of government dollars: Michigan State Housing Development Authority Low-Income Housing Tax Credits and HOME Investment Partnership as well as Community Development Block Grant funds administered by the Housing and Revitalization Department.

Built in 1926, the school was constructed to serve Detroit’s growing Polish population. It also served as the congregation’s house of worship until 1950 when the church opened next door. The parish closed the school in 2005 and leased it to a charter school until about 2014, according to the city. The school was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2019.

"Its scale fits the surrounding landscape and its use as housing for families fits well in the neighborhood," said Sandra Henriquez, CEO of the Detroit Housing Commission. "As much as the former school was an anchor in this community, this housing can now serve that same purpose."

Victoria Griffin, a neighborhood resident, said Monday she remembered walking the halls of Transfiguration School as a student. She now hopes that other empty school buildings can be put back in use.

Victoria Griffin tours one of the apartments at Transfiguration Place, a former Catholic school she attended, on Monday, January 24, 2022.

"This is a milestone day," Griffin said. "I'm getting emotional here because this is a revitalization of my community. I grew up here as a child, I stayed here." 

Joe Heaphy, president Ethos Development Partners, said the renovation project was a complicated one that involved numerous people in roles including historic consultation, financing and site remediation.

“It was an old school," he said. "There were things that needed to be addressed. Lead and asbestos. All of that has been addressed and now we have a safe beautiful building for folks to live in.”

Those interested in applying for housing at Transfiguration Place Apartments can call the Detroit Housing Commission at (313) 877-7864.

Twitter: @CWilliams_DN