From School to Homes: ICCF to Develop Affordable Housing at Eastern Elementary

From School to Homes: ICCF to Develop Affordable Housing at Eastern Elementary

A vacant, ninety-year-old Grand Rapids public school which began its life as a haven for those with physical disability is now being granted a second life as mixed-use and mixed-income housing. It is appropriate that this school building, with accessibility at its core, will now be used to make safe, beautiful, and affordable housing more accessible to local residents.


Eastern Elementary Apartments is a redevelopment of the historic, 4-story school building located in the Highland Park neighborhood of Grand Rapids, right next to Eastern Park. Inner City Christian Federation (ICCF) purchased this property in 2015 and is moving forward with redevelopment focused on creating affordable housing with a mixed-use office and gymnasium space.


ICCF is the oldest non-profit affordable housing provider in the state of Michigan. Active in the Grand Rapids area since 1974, the agency serves more than 2,200 families a year through its programs and services. The Eastern Elementary initiative is the latest step in ICCF’s mission towards housing justice in Grand Rapids.

Eastern Elementary School

Built in 1929, Eastern Elementary School was open to neighboring children but also specifically served students with varying physical disabilities from around the city.  The building was designed with young survivors of Polio in mind; 3 of the 4 floors are accessible without using stairs or elevators thanks to a steep grade change in the surrounding terrain. Additionally, Eastern Elementary was the very first school in Grand Rapids with bus services, giving children with disabilities transportation to and from the campus. Later, the school operated simply as a community public school until it closed in 2008.


After the school closed, the building was sold to a developer interested in creating market-rate condos. When those plans fell through, ICCF was able to purchase the building in 2015 and change the direction of the redevelopment plans to something more beneficial for the immediate surrounding area – workforce housing.


Meeting a Community Need

Workforce housing is any housing made affordable to families earning 60 to 120 percent of the area median income (AMI). It satisfies a large need in Grand Rapids for affordable homes near downtown workplaces.


Workforce housing enables medium-income earners to live in the same community in which they work. Grand Rapids has enjoyed the construction of several hundred new market-rate units and low-income rental housing recently, but very few developments are underway that serve households between those two categories.


At Eastern Elementary, ICCF is proposing 26 units dedicated to low income households at 60% AMI.  The remaining 24 units will be set aside for households between 80% and 120% AMI.  The desire is to ensure these apartments promote equity, offer new housing opportunities, and stimulate reinvestment in this community.


Planned Renovations

This project is qualified as “adaptive reuse” – taking the existing space, utilizing the beauty and function it already holds, and incorporating modern construction to ensure its safety and usability.


The current renovation plans include approximately 2,000 square feet of office space and a leasing office on the first floor. The historic gym will be renovated and maintained as a functioning gym.  Windows will be reinstalled and offer natural light into the gym throughout the day. The second, third, and fourth floors will be dedicated to apartments, ranging from studios to 3-bedroom housing. The building includes laundry facilities for residents, a large parking lot, and, perhaps even more important to young families, is directly adjacent to a beautiful park with a children’s play area.


In addition to the Eastern Elementary project, ICCF is partnering with the Friends of Grand Rapids Park to update the children’s play area to include barrier-free ramps and two playgrounds for children of varying ages.   The outdoor play area is in close proximity to this new housing development, which will provide a safe environment for the children in neighborhood to play, grow, learn and develop.  The park will provide a safe place for children and parents to build relationships with their neighbors. The heart of ICCF is not only to provide a physical space for these families to work and play, but also create an atmosphere of authentic and safe community.


Looking Forward

Eastern Elementary Apartments is an important historic structure for the Highland Park neighborhood. Added to the official historic registry in 2015, it stands as a marker of a time bygone. Polio is no longer a threat to our children; in fact, it has been nearly eradicated. But the issues of inclusion, justice, and equality are still present. Eastern Elementary’s history as an accessible elementary school is rich with a vision for inclusion for all people. The new development by ICCF aims to complete that vision, seeking vibrant communities in West Michigan with connected neighbors, housing justice, and abundant opportunity for everyone.


To learn more and support this project, please visit www.iccf.org.



ICCF exists to foster equitable opportunity, create affordable homes, and therefore create thriving neighborhoods. Programs include Family Haven emergency housing, over 400 units of affordable rental housing, newly constructed homes for purchase, home ownership education, and financial counseling. All services are provided in Spanish and English. Visit www.iccf.org for more information.

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