A place to gather: Gardner-White donates furniture to create community center at new Oak Park housing center

Maureen Feighan
The Detroit News

When it comes to transforming a space in matter of hours, Metro Detroit-based Gardner-White Furniture has it down to a science.

The family-owned retailer delivered $21,000 worth of donated furniture -- sofas, tables, chairs, lighting and accents -- this week to a new $15 million Oak Park housing complex, Coolidge Place, to create a community center for its residents. 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.

Amy Kearis of Humble Design of Detroit, adjust a new table in the community room at Coolidge Center apartments.

"We're the home of same day delivery," said president Rachel Stewart with a laugh.

And while gatherings at the community center will be somewhat limited for now with COVID restrictions in place, the idea is to create a space for residents and families to hang out, do homework or just lounge. Designers with Humble Design, a Pontiac nonprofit, decorated the space.

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

The 64-unit Coolidge Place, which includes townhouses and apartments, welcomed its first tenants in December and is 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."

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.

Jean Hershey of Humble Design of Detroit, sets flower pots on a table in the community room at Coolidge Center apartments.