Detroit officials, Rev. Jim Holley break ground on affordable housing project

Sarah Rahal
The Detroit News

Detroit — City leaders joined Thursday to break ground on an $18 million affordable housing project located across from the Historic Little Rock Baptist Church in honor of its senior pastor in the city's north end. 

Mayor Mike Duggan joined with City Council members, Little Rock Baptist's the Rev. Jim Holley and MHT Housing Inc. in frigid weather to announce the development along Woodward in the Piety Hill neighborhood. It will replace a vacant building that has been demolished to make way for new affordable housing dubbed the "Rev. Dr. Jim Holley Residences."

From right, Mayor Mike Duggan, the Rev. Jim Holley, Council President Mary Sheffield, Detroit Housing Commission CEO Sandra Henriquez and others during a groundbreaking on Thursday, Jan. 27, 2021, for the "Rev. Dr. Jim Holley Residences," a development of 60 one-bedroom affordable apartments honoring Holley.

The development will have 60 one-bedroom units designed for seniors and will be offered at or below 50% of the area median income. That rate is no more than $750 a month; however, because of Section 8 project-based vouchers made available through the Detroit Housing Commission, none of the seniors will pay more than 30% of their monthly income in rent, city officials said.

The units are for those making less than $28,000 a year and will be guaranteed for at least the next 40 years.

Duggan said it was a special day to honor Holley, his friend of more than 35 years. 

“I cannot think of a more fitting tribute to Rev. Jim Holley than a building that will provide so much to our community,” Duggan said. “Rev. Holley has dedicated his life to serving this city, and this project will go a long way to providing quality housing at deeply affordable rates for decades to come.”

Holley is recognized as a civil rights icon in the city and served as senior pastor for 50 years before retiring last month.

"Nowhere in the world we could have done it without you," Holley said. "Our city's history, its renaissance, is not the vision or work of one person, but the vision of so many people in the North End and I'm just happy to be part of that... I'm grateful to stand here today."

City officials said the development is expected to open early next year.

(From left) Council President Mary Sheffield, Rev. Dr. Jim Holley and Mayor Mike Duggan prepare to break ground on the "Rev. Dr. Jim Holley Residences," a development of 60 one-bedroom affordable apartments, in Detroit on Thursday, Jan. 27, 2021. The development is named for Holley, retired senior pastor of the Historic Little Rock Baptist Church across the street from the development.

As a sophomore classmate of the Rev. Jesse Jackson in 1966 at Chicago Theological Seminary, Holley followed the lead of civil rights pioneers such as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and groups such as the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and the NAACP. Soon he became actively involved in protests, demonstrations and sit-ins aimed at bringing about systemic change in the face of opposition and racism. He also marched with King in 1968 in support of workers in Memphis, just two weeks before King was assassinated.

He founded a K-8 charter school, manages a Family Life center focused on family and youth recreation, providing job training and placement programs, low-income housing projects, men’s empowerment conferences, adult education and GED courses, and providing food and clothing for hungry Detroit families. 

Aside from access to clean air and drinking water, there are few things more important than access to affordable housing, City Council President Mary Sheffield said.

"This project will be a welcome addition to District 5 and the portfolio of affordable housing available to our seniors — who are among our most vulnerable residents," she said.

Twitter: @SarahRahal_