Kalamazoo County Commissioners are weighing their options after a sweeping plan to fight homelessness fell through.
The Board revealed yesterday that the county tried to buy the former Lakeside Academy campus. It planned to offer transitional housing, mental health services and job training onsite. The county says it offered $6 million, a developer bid the same amount, and the Lakeside board chose the developer over the county’s proposal.
“More or less we were told there was a lot of concerns about the neighbors – what would the neighbors think?” Board Chair Tracy Hall said in a virtual Board meeting yesterday.
County Administrator Tracie Moored said the developer was Oakland Finance. She added the county did not know if it ultimately agreed to pay more for the property. Oakland's original offer was $6 million, she said.
Lakeside was a children’s group home. It shut down last year after the death of 16-year-old Cornelius Fredrick, which led to criminal charges against three former staffers.
The head of the Lakeside’s board declined to comment on the sale.
Board member Mike Quinn says the county should consider using eminent domain to force Lakeside to sell to the county.
“I think if there’s a chance to get it, that would be one of the fastest and biggest things that we could do to ameliorate the crisis of people without adequate housing,” Quinn said.
In a statement, the county said the local United Way estimates that 175 people are staying in encampments, “a 25 percent increase from fall 2020.” That’s not counting the number of people staying in shelters or temporary housing.
The county’s lawyers have agreed to look into whether eminent domain could be used. But some Board members said it was time to explore other options.
Commissioner Jen Strebs said the Lakeside property has a downside: “The institutional nature of such an environment, and the difficulty of some people to transition into a built environment that feels very institutional for whatever reasons.”
Strebs said the county does need to get people living outside into some kind of shelter as quickly as possible.