At the 10-year Wilshire celebration, (left to right) Lisa Todd, Dennis Quinn, William Borgne and Dan Pederson look a photo album of the building’s restoration
Anchoring a corner on Grand Boulevard in southwest Detroit, the Wilshire apartment building stands as a historic landmark in many respects.
Its development ten years ago was a turning point for the community, Southwest Solutions and the tenants who made it their home.
“The building was a dilapidated dump and drug den before Southwest bought it,” said William Borgne, who was the first tenant to move into the development. “People in the neighborhood were so excited to see the Wilshire restored. I remember how it inspired others to fix up their homes.”
Borgne is one of four residents in the 20-unit building to have lived there since it opened in mid-December 1998. Several tenants lived there for more than nine years. This core of long-time residents gave the Wilshire a strong sense of family and stability that has proven to be therapeutic for tenants, almost all of whom are recovering from mental illness.
Borgne credits the supportive environment at the Wilshire for helping him manage his manic-depressive disorder. Kelvin Norris, another original tenant, has been receiving treatment at Southwest Counseling for schizophrenia. “I feel at home at the Wilshire,” Kelvin said. “I haven’t been hospitalized in ten years and recently earned my associate’s degree.”
Tenants, staff from Southwest Housing (SWHS), and board members gathered at the Wilshire on January 14 to celebrate the 10-year anniversary and share memories. John Van Camp, president of Southwest Solutions, and Dennis Quinn, former head of SWHS and now regional president at Great Lakes Capital Fund, also attended the event.
More than a decade ago, Van Camp and Quinn decided to buy the rundown Wilshire and embark on the first SWHS’ development project. The purchase price was $5,000. “People thought we paid too much for the building,” Quinn said.
SWHS had secured an $800,000 HUD grant to renovate the Wilshire, but Quinn knew that the project required about $2 million. At that time, no developer in the Detroit area had utilized low-income tax credits to finance a project. Quinn set out to cultivate expertise in this tax-credit market and put together a creative financing package to revitalize the Wilshire to provide permanent supportive housing in high-quality, affordable units.
“What we learned in developing the Whitdel became a blueprint for all of Southwest’s future developments,” said Quinn. “Even today, Southwest Housing is light-years ahead of others in understanding the intricacies and potential of the low-income tax-credit market.”
SWHS recently completed restoration of its 23rd apartment building in southwest Detroit. Still, the Wilshire holds a sentimental place in the SWSH development constellation.
The Wilshire was built in 1926 in a “Tudor Revival” architectural style. It housed middle class to upper middle tenants. When Borgne moved into the Wilshire in 1998, he learned that his mother had worked as a maid in same building in the 1940s. The community room where the anniversary event has held was once a communal kitchen that his mother had cleaned.
Speaking at the event, Dan Pederson, SWHS’ director of business development, told the attendees, “You can all be very proud that you were a part of an important first step toward a more hopeful future that still honors the great heritage of southwest Detroit.”