Selling cupcakes, buying real estate, mother-daughter team work to help homeless

KALAMAZOO, MI — Layla Wallace and her mother are known to run a cupcake shop to help those affected by homelessness, donating a portion of their profits to organizations focused on the issue.

Today, 17-year-old Wallace and his mother, Luchara Wallace, are trying to take on another role in the fight against the housing crisis. They are preparing to enter the world of real estate, with the help of a $100,000 grant to their non-profit boutique, Layla’s Cool Popsto be allocated to the purchase of a house in the Quartier de la Vigne.

The money comes from funds generated by a county housing mile approved by voters in 2021.

“I wanted to make sure everyone had to have some type of affordable housing,” Wallace told MLive in an April interview between track workouts and processing orders at his store at 4213 S. Westnedge Ave. The new location is currently under construction. with plans to reopen soon.

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Wallace and his mother were at the bakery at 9 a.m. on Saturday, April 16, to fill an order for baked goods.

The shop’s menu includes cupcake flavors such as Spiced Caramel Apple, Strawberry Heaven, Lemon Candy, and Vanilla Bountiful Lavender. They also make other items such as cake pops.

Luchara Wallace, mother of Layla Wallace and co-owner of Layla’s Cool Pops, pipes frosting on an order of cupcakes inside Layla’s Cool Pops new location amid renovations in Kalamazoo, Michigan on Saturday, April 16, 2022. (Gabi Broekema | MLive.com)Gabi Broekema | MLive.com

Business has been booming at the cupcake shop lately, Luchara Wallace said, and that means they can do more for the mission of helping people who are homeless and struggling with housing. With the purchase of the 4 unit home, they aim to focus on providing housing for people who need a safe place to live.

“(Layla) helps teens and young adults who might be in really dangerous or serious housing situations who have the ability to live independently, giving them that opportunity,” Luchara Wallace said.

The desire is to provide affordable rent/labour to young adults needing help navigating life skills and employment, with priority given to those leaving foster care or emancipated and homeless adults who are trying to find affordable/labour force housing and/or are taking steps toward self-sufficiency, according to the project planning sheet submitted to the county.

They hope to help people coming out of homelessness or people being evicted when the eviction moratorium ends, Luchara Wallace said.

Layla's Cool Pops

Layla Wallace, 17, in front of her new storefront for her business Layla’s Cool Pops in Kalamazoo, Michigan on Saturday, April 16, 2022. (Gabi Broekema | MLive.com)Gabi Broekema | MLive.com

The county awarded the project $100,000.

The city of Kalamazoo wins $60,000, Wallace said. This expenditure must still be approved by the municipal commission.

The $60,000 offered by the city’s Foundation for Excellence (FFE) is a recommended expense to help support the affordable housing project, said FFE coordinator Steve Brown.

The Department of Community Planning and Economic Development will make the internal recommendation to the City of Kalamazoo Commission, seeking approval in May, Brown said.

The recommendation for approval is based on the commitment to provide long-term affordable housing options in all four units. A unit will support incomes below 30% of the zone’s median income, he said, and all units currently provide affordability for incomes below 60% of the zone’s median income.

“Providing housing options to very low-income households is particularly challenging in economic times when construction and development costs are unpredictable and steadily rising. The City of Kalamazoo is thrilled to see developments that leverage resources and have provided creative solutions to address challenges in the housing economy,” Brown said.

The mother-daughter team is working to raise around $65,000 more to buy the house for around $225,000, Luchara Wallace said.

They would also like to raise $50,000 for programming, she said.

People can donate to the cause on the Layla’s Cool Pops websiteshe says.

“We’re basically doing whatever we need to do, whether it’s applying for grants, applying for financing, or pulling out of our current assets, to make sure we can complete the purchase of this building. But we really need help,” said Luchara Wallace.

Layla Wallace said her friend was living in unstable accommodation and she hopes the house could be a place to live.

“She was recently kicked out of her house, so I wanted to make sure she had a place to go,” Wallace said. “I don’t want to see anyone sleeping on the street. I certainly don’t want to see someone who is my friend, or I care a lot about being on the street. So I wanted to make sure I could do this project sooner than I thought, just to make sure I can help it and then also be able to help other people.

Wallace is a junior student at Portage Central High School and currently balances athletic training and competition with her other responsibilities.

Kalamazoo County Housing Director Mary Balkema said it was a pleasure to work with young people and first-time developers and see them submit their plans and get them to the finish line as they went. and as projects progress.

The Wallaces work with a board of directors and finances were in order with a good governance structure, Balkema said. It helps a candidacy be more compelling compared to someone who comes to the county with just an idea, Balkema said. She said the app was compelling because of the desire to help people in difficult situations. One thing that wasn’t as compelling was that the house was purchased from another nonprofit, Balkema said.

Work to support emancipated adolescents is part of the housing strategy to ensure that different niches are served.

“I don’t see anyone doing this work and I know they exist in our community,” Balkema said.

Related: Legacy House will provide transitional housing for LGBTQ+ homeless youth in Kalamazoo

As Director of Housing, Balkema was instrumental in working with applicants and submitting their project information to the elected commissioners for selection and receipt of funds.

The annual money of approximately $7 million is designed to help address homelessness and overall housing affordability in the county.

The ‘Homes for All’ mileage, a 0.75 mil property tax request, passed in November 2020 with 66,918 voting ‘yes’, around 51.3%, and 63,610 voting ‘no’, around 48, 7%.

The mileage will continue for eight years, with funding from 2021 to 2028. Funds raised by the levy are used to provide rental subsidies, permanent housing, and related support services to residents of Kalamazoo County. The first round of funding was awarded to projects in early 2022.

Other projects recently approved for county mileage funding include a 10-home development across from the site of a former homeless camp, designed to be affordable for people earning 30% of the area’s median income. (FRIEND). There is also another development by a former Western Michigan University football player turned developer, which includes units designed for people with 80% AMI.

Related: Former West Michigan running back’s next piece is building new housing in Kalamazoo

Read more:

Housing Director Mary Balkema has been asked to be part of the Kalamazoo Foundation for Excellence

10-home development planned near former homeless encampment in Kalamazoo

Former vice mayor hired as Kalamazoo County homelessness director

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