LGBTQ+ people need housing but can face discrimination in the process of finding a home as well as harassment once in housing. A local Lansing developer wants to change that with a housing project for LGBTQ+ residents.
Christopher Stralkowski, a senior executive at Ferguson Development, said he is “trying to create a conversation to see if this something that would fit within the Lansing area.”
He said his initial research on LGBTQ+ housing opportunities was “disconcerting.”
He is working with the LGBTQ+ networking group Suits in the City to host a September meeting to solicit input.
As COVID-19 locked the nation down, the UCLA School of Law Williams Institute released a comprehensive review of housing obstacles for members of the LGBTQ community.
Among the national study’s findings:
● Married different-sex couples are more likely to own the home they live in than same-sex couples, 79.4% compared to 72%.
● Significantly fewer LGBTQ+ adults own their homes than non-LGBTQ+ adults 49.8% to 70.1%.
On top of this, studies have also found that housing discrimination in renting and mortgage lending are obstacles. The Michigan State Housing Development Authority has recognized this disparity in the 2022 “Michigan’s Statewide Housing Plan.” That plan also argues for a need for LGBTQ+-affirming housing options. MSHDA is offering tax credits and grants to make that happen.
Just this year, Ferndale officials approved a 53-unit building specifically for LGBTQ+ seniors, funded in part with MSHDA grants.
When he was Chicago-area high school teacher, Stralkowski said he worked to create a safe and inclusive educational space. That, he said, was just part of the way he was raised. The constant drumbeat of opposition and attacks against transgender youth and people, the political football that drag shows have become, is alien to him.
“I was raised to accept people for who they are. It isn’t for me to judge, and hopefully, I’m not the one who will be judged either,” he said. “But it’s gotten to a point in our society that no one should be ashamed or feel threatened because of who they are.”
Stralkowski is the senior executive project manager at Ferguson Development, a long-established company owned by his father-in-law, Joel Ferguson, who was Lansing’s first African-American City Council member and a frequent president of the Board of Trustees at Michigan State University.
Since Strawlskowski returned to Lansing, Ferguson Development partnered on building the Red Cedar mixed-use project on the east end of Michigan Avenue. Stralkowski is spearheading the redevelopment of the Pleasant Grove Elementary School property at Pleasant Grove and Holmes roads, which Malcolm X attended as a child.
The LGBTQ+ community may seem, at first glance, to be a community without a significant need for low-income housing.
That’s untrue. The Williams Institute reports that in 2019, 21.6% of LGBTQ+ people were living in poverty, compared to 15.7% of heterosexuals. A 2021 study in the European Journal of Social Psychology found the myth that gays and lesbians are wealthy drives a belief that the community does not experience discrimination.
“Perpetuating this myth — either intentionally or inadvertently — could have deleterious effects on efforts for social change and the promotion of rights for sexual minorities,” the study found.
Stralkowski said his goal is to develop housing that offers both low-income and market-rate apartments. It’s a model that has proven successful in other Michigan cities and one which the Lansing Housing Commission is hoping to deliver in downtown Lansing with a proposed development called Riverview 220.
On top of the disparities in income and the discrimination LGBTQ people face in housing, Stralkowski said the housing market itself is facing skyrocketing prices in markets across the state.
The Michigan State Housing Plan backs up that observation.
“Between January 2013 and October 2021,” according to the report, “the average sales price for a home in Michigan increased by 84%, compared to the national average of 48%.”
With the project in its infancy, Stralkowski said he is just beginning to understand what issues may exist for the LGBTQ community. He acknowledged that everyone has biases “known and unknown,” and he is hoping the community will be helping the development along by better informing him of the needs of the community.
“What is the need? What is the opportunity?” He said. “What potentially are the amenities? And then the other piece to that is the idea: Where does this fit? Is it the welcoming, inclusive LGBTQ affirmative community of Old Town? Is it along the Michigan Avenue corridor? Is it in South Lansing? Is it in REO Town? Is it downtown? Is it somewhere on the edges? Where does this fit in terms of a safe, welcoming, inclusive community that is an asset as opposed to what people would say would be a liability?”
The city of Lansing had two public incidents of anti-LGBTQ+ activity in the last year. One was the burning of pride flags on the east side last June. The other was in April of anti-LGBTQ+ graffiti on the River Trail. Asked if he thought an LGBTQ+ housing facility might become a target for violence, Stralkowski said that was something “we’ll have to think about.”
While the project continues in the envisioning process, he said he will continue to educate himself.
“How am I looking at this? Am I looking at this because I’m creating a better environment in my community and what I call home and where I grew up? Or am I just doing something to make money and I’m just gonna keep moving?” he said, after noting the U.S. is a capitalist economy.
He answered his own question.
“If I can break even, I’m happy,” he said. “I’m happy because it’s what the community wants. It’s what the community needs."
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