At a time when a growing number of families are unable to afford housing, childcare, food, transportation and health care, Matt Hollander is dedicated to building affordable and sustainable housing in greater Kalamazoo and across western Michigan.
Since 2018, Hollander has been president of the Portage-based Hollander Development Corp., and he believes people should have not just shelter, but housing.
“There is this movement currently to build tiny units and tiny houses for the unhoused, but I view that as dystopian,” Hollander says.“ Putting people into small boxes is a race to the bottom. Yes, they need shelter, and tiny houses can be a triage to something better, but it should be only a step in a continuum to affordable housing.
“Anyone dealing with the unhoused knows that we are dealing with a variety of issues — mental health, fleeing violence, addiction — and we are doomed to failure if we do not address all these issues.”
Hollander developed his passion for providing affordable, environmentally friendly housing because of his father’s influence.
Joseph Hollander, Matt’s father, established the Hollander Development Corporation (HDC) in 1979, and since then the company has developed more than 40 multi-family communities across the state, building more than 4,000 homes.
“My dad was a real estate attorney, and he served as deputy director of operations for the Michigan State Housing Development Authority (MSHDA),” Matt Hollander says. “At first, HDC was something he did on the side, but by the mid-‘90s he was full time into developing.”
When Hollander was growing up— he was born in Okemos but his family moved to the Kalamazoo area when he was 3 — the concept of housing that is accessible for all was always present in the family. “It was clear that we believed in housing for everyone,” he says. “I never really thought about doing anything else in my life other than this.
“When I was 15, I ran a vacuum in apartment buildings in Portage, working for my dad. It was my job after school. My father was always an example to me. Developments for affordable and sustainable housing were an interest that stayed with me when I went to Western Michigan University.”
Hollander earned a bachelor’s degree in anthropology and environmental sciences at WMU in 2008. Soon after graduation, he took on the position of coordinator of sustainability projects at WMU, where he remained until 2013. He developed and managed programs for interns, researchers and student workers in various sustainability projects. He mentored students, managed countless campus-wide sustainability programs, developed the university’s sustainability website, coordinated events and more.
“But then I wanted to come back to something smaller, nimbler, than the large university projects,”
Hollander says. He returned to HDC, now as a principal, and over the next nine years developed commercial, mixed-use and other real estate projects. He became an expert in LEED and other green building projects. LEED, or Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, is the most widely used green building rating system. It is a globally recognized certification for buildings that meet the highest sustainability standards.
The four levels of LEED certification include basic certification plus Silver, Gold, and Platinum levels, issued with a particular point count by the U.S. Green Building Council when a building meets certain criteria with regards to integrative thinking; energy; water; waste; materials; location and transportation; sustainable sites; health and human experience; regional impacts; innovation; and global, regional and local context.
“My interest in sustainable design began while I was at WMU, while my dad was getting interested in green building at HDC,” Hollander says. “MSHDA was beginning to realize that LEED usually applied to higher-income housing but (that) low- and mid-level could benefit too. We wanted to make it more attainable. My dad was always an environmentally conscious person, an avid outdoorsman, and we would have conversations about sustainable design over the dinner table.”
One of HDC’s first green builds was an apartment complex, Deerpath, in East Lansing, built in 1979 and brought up to green standards in 2011–2012.
“Not every building in our portfolio is green. Not the older buildings, but all our newer developments are,” Hollander says.
Another HDC project was The Creamery, on the corner of Lake Street and Portage Street in Kalamazoo’s Edison neighborhood. It’s a $14.7 million, mixed-use, mixed-income, energy-efficient development that also houses HDC’s office.
It has 48 residential apartments that are affordable for the lowest-income earners and workforce households. Rents begin at $417 to $980 per month for the lower-income units depending on the size and are higher for workforce households, ranging from $1,200 to $1,550 per month, based on bedroom type and household income. All units have washers and dryers, air conditioning, garbage disposals and ceiling fans, and the rent covers utilities.
The project also received recognition for sustainability. “When we built The Creamery here, we achieved LEED Platinum,” says Hollander. “We were one of Michigan’s first all-electric buildings. We have gas connections for the commercial spaces in the building, but with that one caveat, all the apartments here are electric.
“We also added solar power for part of the building and a green roof. It’s been a popular space for residents and community. We even had a jazz festival up there recently.”
In 2022, the U.S. Green Building Council of West Michigan announced Hollander Development Corp. as the Certified Green Building Award Winner for Multifamily housing for The Creamery project. The Certified Green Building Awards recognize exemplary building projects that received high-performance certifications.
Childcare and jobs included
The development takes its name from its previous occupant, the Klover Gold Creamery Co., Hollander explained. Klover Gold Creamery processed milk, butter, and dairy foods at the location from 1904 to 1997, but after Klover left the building, it became a blighted area. The city of Kalamazoo demolished the empty building and conducted a neighborhood survey to gather ideas about the needs of the surrounding community.
HDC took over the site in 2019, obtained state incentives to help in financing, worked with Byce & Associates as architects for the project and Frederick Construction Inc. as construction manager, and opened it to the public in 2021. HDC then partnered with the YWCA to develop a childcare center within the building and to provide full-time employment for more than 20 community residents at businesses housed in The Creamery.
“We brought in the YWCA to offer affordable, traditional childcare services as well as Kalamazoo County’s first 24-hour drop-in childcare facility, a nature-based playground, and other wraparound family services within the building,” Hollander says.
What is ‘affordable’?
“Affordable housing,” as defined by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, is housing and utility expenses that cost no more than 30% of an individual or family’s income.
When defining affordability for its housing developments, Hollander says, HDC uses the ALICE Report of the Michigan Association of United Ways as a starting point but hopes to improve upon that — a plan that remains in progress, he says. ALICE refers to people who are Asset Limited, Income Constrained, and Employed — in other words, the growing number of families who are unable to afford the basics of housing, childcare, food, transportation, health care and technology.
The ALICE Report defines affordable housing as costing 30 percent of household income, “but that (definition) wasn’t developed scientifically,” Hollander says. “People have student loans, cell phone connections, health-care costs and other expenses too. It’s just not realistic. It’s living in outer space.”
In HDC’s attempt to lower that percentage and boost affordability, it accepts housing vouchers to serve the lowest-income renters. “And even with vouchers, it can be difficult for these families,” Hollander says. “Many landlords won’t accept vouchers because there’s this myth that these people will destroy the apartment and leave, but that’s a minority. That’s simply an attack on the poor.”
HDC also leases to people with a criminal history — another marginalized population that has difficulty obtaining leases. “We look at these case by case,” Hollander says. “We look at their individual story and make a decision from that.”
A senior housing partnership
When it comes to managing HDC’s assets and the properties it builds, HDC Vice President Jason Muniz steps in. He is the primary point of contact for HDC’s debt and equity partners.
“Matt and I go way back, some 25 years,” Muniz says. “I oversaw The Creamery project, but now we are transitioning into the next development — the Legacy Senior Living project, on Kalamazoo’s North Side, at 740 N. Burdick St.”
Muniz points to an office drawing board showing a 70-unit senior housing development to be located on a block between East North Street, North Burdick, and Edwards Street. The project is now midway through the design phase, and HDC is anticipating groundbreaking in early 2025.
HDC created a new entity called Edison Community Partners, LLC, with three owners — Matt Hollander, Jason Muniz and Jamauri Bogan — to take on this project.
“About two years ago, we noticed a couple parcels of land the Kalamazoo Land Bank had, too small for us, but then we noticed neighboring parcels and found out those were owned by the Mt. Zion Baptist Church on Roberson Street,” Muniz says. “When we asked them if they were willing to sell the land, we learned that they had been planning to call us. We both saw the same need for elderly housing in the area.”
Now the church and Edison Community Partners are working together to secure funding for the project through state and federal tax credits and tax initiatives.
“There are many funding challenges for a project like this, because it is critical that we can offer vouchers to be more competitive,” Muniz says. “And then there is the challenge of incentivized minority participation and ownership. There is now a great deal of national attention for DEI — diversity, equity, and inclusion — but there is still a big disparity on where the equity goes.”
Hollander adds, “Ownership of real estate continues to be dominated by white males. What we are trying to do with this Legacy project is to break that cycle. We want to create more opportunities for women and minorities to participate on our project teams and as subcontractors and vendors. How do we improve access to intergenerational wealth? Edison Community Partners is working to be a part of these conversations.”
The $25 million Legacy project will have 50/50 ownership by Edison Community Partners and Mt. Zion Baptist Church. It is projected to be a net-zero-energy development, with low-carbon design and all electric. Units will be 630 square feet each, and rent will include the cost of utilities.
The housing will be for residents 55 years and older of low- and mid-income levels and, preferably, with roots in the Northside neighborhood. “We won’t discriminate against anyone applying from other areas, but our plan is to inform the surrounding community to apply,” Hollander says. “Seniors will qualify for independent, not assisted, living. Some, in fact, may still be working.”
The Legacy project will also not displace any existing homes, Muniz says. On the drawing board, he points to a couple of older homes located on the edges of the project that the partners will build around. There is space for everyone, he says.
“The Legacy pilot project is our learning opportunity and our hope that others will follow in our footsteps,” Muniz says.
‘More fun than football’
The lead developer for the Legacy project is Bogan, who began working initially as an associate developer with Edison Community Partners in 2021. A former WMU Broncos football running back, the New Jersey native decided to remain in Kalamazoo after earning a bachelor’s degree in personal finance and a master’s in business administration.
Bogan says he has been interested in affordable housing since he was a pre-teen sitting in with his mother at her real estate meetings. He absorbed what he heard, learned from it, and was inspired. In Kalamazoo, he started his own business, Bogan Developments, LLC.
“I don’t miss football. This is much more fun than football,” he says. “And as I kept working on ideas for affordable housing, I kept hearing about Hollander Development Corp. We were both doing similar things.”
So similar, in fact, that Bogan was invited to become the third partner on the Legacy project for affordable senior housing. The sustainability factor, however, was new to him.
“Sustainability was not my original concern,” Bogan says, “but I learned from working with Matt Hollander, who became my friend and mentor. I understand now the importance of sustainable building, why it is necessary. Matt is a visionary, forward-thinking in all he does. He is always searching for ways to make these developments more sustainable, and he is the best in what he does.”
Bogan was also sold on the Legacy project by looking at The Creamery as its predecessor.
“All people need a nice place to live, and that means a focus on amenities, like providing affordable childcare for the community,” he says. “People talk about it, but do they do it? When I saw what HDC had not only talked about it but done, that sold me.”
‘This project has purpose’
Bogan describes his role in the Legacy project as building understanding in the surrounding community of what the Edison Community Partners hope to accomplish, learning what the community wants and needs, and aligning with those needs as well as well as with Mt. Zion Baptist Church.
“People want to be proud of the place where they live,” he says. “I am hearing people talk about wanting to feel safe and being able to age in place. They want on-site amenities that include a community room and a grill station for those warm summer days.”
All these ideas are being incorporated into Legacy plans. Bogan, with his own strong base in faith, says he appreciates especially the unique collaboration with Mt. Zion, an African-American church.
“You can’t just preach on Sunday and leave people hopeless Monday through Saturday,” he says. “I’ve been passionate about community service since my college years, and I was buying real estate, but I was still missing purpose. I wanted to work on something that affects people, and that’s why I connected with the Hollander team. This project has purpose.
“You know, when I was playing football, we had a term we used — ‘elite.’ That meant beyond the best. And that is what Matt and the Hollander team are doing and why I want to be a part of the Legacy project — this is elite. This is the kind of work we will be doing for the next 100 years.”