Resilient Neighborhoods: Cody Rouge says, 'Goodbye old school, hello new development'

Maria Peoples couldn't be happier that the middle school her son once attended in Detroit's Cody Rouge neighborhood has just been torn down. 

Although school officials shuttered Ruddiman Middle School a decade-and-a-half ago, the site had sat vacant for years inviting blight and crime and creating an unsafe environment for children. A demolition crew hired by the city finally razed and cleared the former school grounds this April.

For Peoples, who has lived in the community for more than 40 years and is a member of a neighborhood group called the Franklin Park Community Association, that's welcome news indeed. 

"It was an eyesore for many many years, that corner," she says. "I thank God that it has been torn down."

What's more, plans are now underway to build a senior living facility right next to the site and upgrade a nearby park called Simanek Playfield. And that's got the Cody Rouge resident feeling great about her community's future.

"Now they're down there getting ready to do something good on the property that would accommodate us seniors," says Peoples. "It will be beautification and upgrades for the neighborhood. I really think that'll work!"  

Ruddiman Middle School was demolished by the city of Detroit in April 2023.From blight to senior living 

The senior housing development is being planned by a partnership between Cody Rouge Community Action Alliance (CRCAA), a local community development organization, and CHN Housing Partners, a developer and service provider that's been active in Detroit since 2018. The new development, a 53-unit apartment building, will be located just south of the former school site on Archdale Street, not far from W. Warren Avenue and Southfield Road.

While it doesn't yet have an official name, the co-developers are tentatively calling it Volunteer participates in CRCAA community cleanup. (Photo courtesy of CRCAA)the Archdale Senior Apartments. The two partners aim to make it an affordable independent living facility for seniors living between 30% to 60% of the area median income (AMI).

“CHN is proud to continue adding to Detroit’s stock of affordable senior housing alongside CRCAA and the City of Detroit,” said Jason Headen, VP of Detroit Market for CHN Housing Partners. “CRCAA’s deep knowledge of the Cody Rouge neighborhood combined with CHN’s 42 years of experience creating affordable homes for our communities is how we actualize the vision Cody Rouge residents have for this development.” 

Although CHN and CRCAA have been familiar with one another for years, the project itself didn't start taking shape until last fall.

"After COVID hit, we kind of lost contact and then the city put out this RFP (Request for Proposals) for groups to bid on this project] and that's how we reconnected. That's how the partnership formed," says CRCAA director Kenyetta Campbell.

The vision for the project evolved out of city outreach efforts to community members seeking to identify focus areas for city planning. Though Cody Rouge is known for having one of the highest concentrations of school-age youth in the city, it also is home to a large population of seniors.

"This project is a direct result of the Warren Cody Rouge Neighborhood Framework Plan," says Delorean Holmes, West Region Director of Development for the City of Detroit Housing and Revitalization Department. "Residents participated in that heavily and mentioned senior housing as being one of the biggest asks." 

While the project partners are both co-owners and co-developers of the facility, each organization will be playing different roles in the endeavor. Leaning into years of expertise developing affordable housing units, CHN is serving as the effort's active developer and will be handling property management once construction is complete. 

CRCAA has some development experience renovating homes they bought from the land bank and overseeing minor home repairs in the neighborhood, but its focus on this project has been handling community engagement. So far the group has held two community engagement events, one focused on general community members and the other aimed at finding out local seniors' priorities for the apartment building. After the project is completed, CRCAA will focus on providing wrap-around services to the apartment residents.

While the final plans are still being drawn up, Cheryl McHallam, CHN's Real Estate Development Manager, says architects working on the development do have a rough idea of many of the project parameters. 

"It's going to be a single building, three stories with an elevator. It's going to be a combination of one and two-bedroom units [and] there'll be plenty of onsite parking for the residents," she says. "We are definitely still in design stages, but we are anticipating a full amenity package."

In addition to putting out the RFP for the project, the city's Housing and Revitalization Department is actively supporting the project partners in navigating city-specific logistical issues and applying for project funds. The next big step for the development will come in December, when the two partners apply for Low-Income Housing Tax Credits (LIHTC) for the project. According to Campbell, physical development isn't expected to begin until at least 2025. 

Simanek Playfield (Nick Hagen Photo)
Upgrading Simanek Playfield

In addition to the Archdale apartment development, the city of Detroit is also working to upgrade nearby Simanek Playfield. As with the senior living facility, plans to upgrade the park emerged out of the Warrendale Cody Rouge Neighborhood Framework Plan.   

Feedback from the community during the framework planning process recommended a variety of different amenities, including improved pathways, seating areas, natural areas, basketball courts, and a potential bike park. The city intends to bring these suggestions back to residents to finalize park planning and design efforts during a community engagement session later this summer. Construction is expected to begin in the summer of 2024 and wrap up the following year. 

"With the demolition of Ruddiman School, we believe the improvements at Simanek Park will be a transformative blight-to-beauty project in the community," says Dara O'Byrne, Chief Parks Planner for Detroit's General Services Department. "We hope the improvements and the amenities in the park will draw youth and community members from the adjacent community as well as from across Southfield and across W. Warren Avenue, creating a gathering place that brings people together, strengthening communities, and creating a space for residents to be proud of."  

As CRCAA's director, Campbell is overjoyed about the progress of these developments happening near the grounds of the former Ruddiman Middle School. And she takes satisfaction that they are taking place alongside a variety of other local developments, including new streetscaping along the West Warren Avenue corridor funded by the city's Strategic Neighborhood Fund; ongoing enhancements at Greenview-Wadsworth Park, Stein Park, and Rouge Park, which will be building a new community and indoor recreation center; and the creation of the new Tireman-Minock Park, at the site of the old Dixon School site.

"I'm excited. Growing up in Cody Rouge, it's been a long time coming to see all the development projects happening," says Campbell. "Cody Rouge has always been considered a hidden jewel in Detroit. And now I think we're finally at the point that not just people in the city, but all over the state know about the neighborhood."

Resilient Neighborhoods is a reporting and engagement series that examines how Detroit residents and community development organizations are working together to strengthen local neighborhoods. It's made possible with funding from the Kresge Foundation.
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Read more articles by David Sands.

David Sands is a Detroit-based freelance writer. He's covered the news for Huffington Post Detroit as an assistant editor and worked as a staff writer for the transportation news site Mode Shift. Follow him on Twitter @dsandsdetroit.