New housing complex will make use of empty lot across from Detroit cathedral 

The Cathedral Apartments will include 53 low-income units and 6,000 square feet of commercial retail and community space

DETROIT — The Cathedral of the Most Blessed Sacrament and the Archdiocese of Detroit have announced a partnership with MHT Housing Inc. to transform a vacant lot across the street from the cathedral into 53 units of affordable housing.

The partnership and impending build of the Cathedral Apartments are part of the cathedral’s mission to continue to grow as an apostolic center of arts and culture, said Fr. J.J. Mech, the cathedral’s rector.

Fr. Mech wrote in a letter to the community that the project is an outgrowth of Archbishop Allen H. Vigneron’s pastoral letter, Unleash the Gospel, which challenges the Church in Detroit not only to evangelize, but to “understand the entire geographical territory of the parish to respond with cultural competency and outreach.” 

Cathedral rector Fr. J.J. Mech examines renderings for the future Cathedral Apartments complex during a neighborhood cleanup event at the Cathedral of the Most Blessed Sacrament in July 2020. (Valaurian Waller | Detroit Catholic)

The empty lot on the southwest corner of Woodward Avenue and Calvert Avenue, northwest of the cathedral, has been owned and maintained by the archdiocese and cathedral staff for nearly 20 years, Fr. Mech told Detroit Catholic. Until now, it has not had a purpose or plan. 

“I don’t believe in coincidence or luck; we needed the resources because of what the archbishop has asked us to do here, making this a true apostolic center,” Fr. Mech said. 

The idea to use the lot for an affordable housing complex came from Greg DeMars, a member of the Archdiocesan Cathedral Council (ACC) and board member of MHT Housing Inc., one of the top developers for affordable, clean housing for low-income workers in the state. 

“I thought there could be a great opportunity for the cathedral and MHT to put a project together and be part of the ACC’s work to make it an apostolic center,” DeMars told Detroit Catholic. “But it also would be a way to further expand or promote evangelization. It all came together, and we are moving forward. We have received all approvals necessary to do the development.”

The Cathedral of the Most Blessed Sacrament is pictured in this aerial photo, across the street from where the new Cathedral Apartments will be built on the corner of Calvert and Woodward (empty lot to the left in the photograph). (Aerial photo by Rick Giffin | Detroit Catholic)

The plans for the Cathedral Apartments include a four-story building with 53 two-bedroom apartments and 6,000 square feet of space to be used for commercial retail, community programs and neighborhood services. Sixteen of the units will be subsidized with vouchers from the Detroit Housing Commission. 

According to the cathedral’s website, the complex will serve people with incomes between $21,600 to $57,600. MHT Management Inc., one of the largest landlords in Detroit, will manage the complex, which will be owned by a new joint venture entity. 

Construction is set to begin in March 2022 with an estimated completion date of March 2023. 

Fr. Mech said members of the cathedral parish will be given the first opportunity to apply for and move into the apartments. 

In a letter to the community, Fr. J.J. Mech wrote that the partnership and impending build of the Cathedral Apartments are part of the cathedral’s mission to continue to grow as an “apostolic center of arts and culture,” in response to Archbishop Allen H. Vigneron’s 2017 pastoral letter, “Unleash the Gospel.”

“It is a win-win situation for the neighborhood because it is progress with the retail that will be offered. Hopefully we will find the right kind of things to meet the needs of the neighborhood and to expand our mission,” Fr. Mech said. 

Fr. Mech added the apartments will help bolster the cathedral’s resources, which can be used to support the parish’s programs and services. 

Last summer, the cathedral and MHT Housing Inc. hosted joint neighborhood cleanup efforts to beautify the area, and in April, a blighted home to the cathedral’s north was abated and demolished.

Other projects have included the installation of a Wi-Fi antenna atop one of the cathedral’s bell towers to provide a free internet signal over a half-mile radius, and weekend food distributions to serve those in need.

Fr. Mech said the Archdiocesan Cathedral Council is open to other building projects down the road, and will continue to try to meet the spiritual, emotional and educational needs of the community. 

Fr. Mech said the Cathedral Council is open to other building projects as it continues to try to meet the spiritual, emotional and educational needs of the neighborhood. 

Future projects, he said, will be “centered on our purpose and mission to unleash the Gospel and bring people to Christ.”

“What’s wonderful about this is that it is causing people to start asking questions. It is bringing attention, not just to the cathedral, but the Gospel, which is what we are all about,” Fr. Mech said. “We have been doing neighborhood cleanups, offering different gatherings and fun things for the neighborhood, to connect with people.

“We want to make sure that the cathedral is not a fortress,” Fr. Mech added. “We are trying to meet everyone where they are with what they need.”