Gardner-White donates $21K in furniture, decor to community center at new Oak Park housing complex

Maureen Feighan
The Detroit News

A once empty community center attached to a new $15 million Oak Park housing complex got the specialty treatment Thursday as it was transformed into a space for tenants to do homework, yoga or just hang out.

In a matter of hours, crews with Gardner-White Furniture moved $21,000 worth of donated furniture into the center at Coolidge Place on Coolidge just north of Eight Mile. What was once a large, open space with a kitchenette now includes two long dining tables, a chic seating area, multiple pub tables for people to spread out and a homework and play area for kids.

"The whole object is to make it really flexible so families can come in and use it 800 different ways," said Rachel Stewart, president of Gardner-White.

Amy Kearis of Humble Design -- Humble Design decorated the space -- adjusts a new table in the community room at Coolidge Place apartment in Oak Park.

The 64-unit Coolidge Place, which includes townhouses and apartments, welcomed its first tenants in December. It's one of the region's newest developments to help ease the critical shortage of affordable housing. Operated by Lighthouse, a local social services agency that provides emergency food, housing and other services, it's now fully occupied by tenants who meet certain income thresholds. 

Ryan Hertz, chief executive officer of Lighthouse, said the lack of affordable housing in Metro Detroit is a serious issue with far-reaching economic consequences. He said approximately 20,000 Oakland County households are now "rent-burdened," meaning they spend more than one-third of their gross income on rent. 

A view of the furnished community room at the Coolidge Center apartments.

"For every high-income job that is created, we're adding four to six low- to mid-wage jobs to support them so we need places for all of those people to sleep and send their kids to school," said Hertz.

Alicia Love-Brown's daughter, Meleshe Love, 28, and granddaughter, Miracle, 4, moved into Coolidge Place a few weeks ago, just a few miles from where Love-Brown lives.

"I love it. She loves it," said Love-Brown. "This is her first apartment."

Ryan Hertz, President & CEO of Lighthouse, gives his remarks during the press event.

Love-Brown said Meleshe's only other housing options were further north or weren't nearly as affordable. She said her daughter and granddaughter especially like the play structure at Coolidge Place and that there's security in place to monitor the parking lot.

"It's really amazing," said Love-Brown.

Thursday's donation isn't the first time Gardner-White has teamed up with Lighthouse. Last year when the pandemic hit, the family-owned retailer let Lighthouse use its trucks to deliver emergency food, requests for which have skyrocketed over the last year.

Hertz hopes more organizations make affordable housing a priority.

"It's not sustainable" the way it is now, he said.