Selling cupcakes, buying real estate, mother-daughter teamwork to help the homeless

KALAMAZOO, MI – Layla Wallace and her mother are known for running a cupcake shop with the goal of helping people affected by homelessness by donating a portion of their proceeds to organizations focused on the problem.

Today, 17-year-old Wallace and her mother, Luchara Wallace, are working to take on a different role in the fight against the housing crisis. They’re preparing to break into the world of real estate with the help of a $100,000 grant to their nonprofit store, Layla’s Cool Pops, which they can use toward buying a home in the Vine neighborhood.

The money comes from funds generated by a county condominium mill approved by voters in 2021.

“I wanted to make sure everyone had affordable housing,” Wallace told MLive in an April interview between doing track exercises and filling orders at her store at 4213 S. Westnedge Ave. The new location is currently under construction with plans to reopen soon.

Related: The Kalamazoo Bakery thrives on the ideas of a 15-year-old entrepreneur

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

The store’s menu includes cupcake flavors like Spiced Caramel Apple, Strawberry Sky, Lemon Drop, and luscious Vanilla Lavender. They also make other items like cake pops.

Luchara Wallace, mother of Layla Wallace and co-owner of Layla’s Cool Pops whistles on Saturday 16 MLive.com)Gabi Broekema | MLive.com

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

“[Layla]helps and empowers teens and young adults who may be in really dangerous or difficult housing situations who are able to live independently,” said Luchara Wallace.

The desire is to offer affordable rent/worker rentals to young adults who need help navigating life skills and employment, with those leaving foster care, or emancipated and homeless adults trying to find affordable/worker housing, and/ or take the steps prioritized toward self-sufficiency, according to the project planning fiche submitted to the county.

They hope to help people transition out of homelessness or people displaced after the moratorium on evictions ended, Luchara Wallace said.

Layla's Cool Pops

Layla Wallace, 17, in front of her new storefront for her Layla’s Cool Pops store 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 brings in $60,000, Wallace said. These expenditures have yet to be approved by the City Commission.

The proposed $60,000 from the city’s Foundation for Excellence (FFE) is recommended spending in support of the affordable housing project, said FFE coordinator Steve Brown.

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

The approval recommendation is based on the obligation to create long-term affordable housing in all four units. One unit will support incomes below 30% of the area’s median income, he said, and all units currently offer affordability for incomes below 60% of the area’s median income.

“Providing housing for ultra-low-income households is particularly challenging in economic times when construction and development costs are unpredictable and ever-increasing. The City of Kalamazoo welcomes developments that leverage resources and offer creative solutions to address the challenges in the housing industry,” said Brown.

The mother-daughter team is working to raise another $65,000 to purchase the home for about $225,000, Luchara Wallace said.

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

People can donate to the cause at Layla’s Cool Pops website, she said.

“We’re doing basically whatever we have to do to ensure we can complete the purchase of this building, whether it’s applying for grants, applying for financing, or using our working capital. But we definitely need help,” Luchara Wallace said.

Layla Wallace said her friend has an unstable living situation and she hopes the house could be a place for her to live.

“She was recently kicked out of her house, so I wanted to make sure she had somewhere to go,” Wallace said. “I don’t want to see anyone sleeping on the street. I definitely don’t want to see anyone my boyfriend or care about being on the road a lot. So I wanted to make sure I could finish this project sooner than I thought, just to make sure I can help her and then I can help other people too.”

Wallace is a junior at Portage Central High School and she is currently balancing track practice and track meetings with her other responsibilities.

Kalamazoo County Housing Director Mary Balkema said it’s been exciting to work with young people and early-stage developers and see them submit their plans and see them through as projects progress.

The Wallaces operate with a board and finances are in order with a good governance structure, Balkema said. That helps an application be more persuasive than someone who comes to the county with just an idea, Balkema said. She said the application is compelling because she wants to help people in challenging situations. One thing that wasn’t as convincing was that the home was bought by another nonprofit, Balkema said.

The work, designed to help emancipated teenagers, aligns with the housing strategy to ensure various niche areas are served.

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

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

As Housing Director, Balkema was instrumental in working with the applicants and communicating their project information to the elected Commissioners for selection and receiving funding.

Approximately $7 million in annual Millage grants are intended to help fight homelessness and overall housing affordability in the county.

The Houses for All millage, a $0.75 million property tax proposal, passed in November 2020 by 66,918 yes votes of about 51.3% and 63,610 no votes of about 48.7%.

The mill will continue for eight years and will be funded from 2021 to 2028. Funds raised from the tax will be used to provide rent subsidies, permanent housing and related support services to Kalamazoo County residents. The first round of funding was awarded to projects in early 2022.

Other projects recently approved for County Millage funding include a 10-home development across from the site of a former homeless encampment, designed to be affordable to people earning an AMI of 30% of the area. There is also another evolution of a former Western Michigan University football player turned developer containing units designed for people with 80% AMI.

Related: The former Western Michigan running back’s next game is building new homes in Kalamazoo

Continue reading:

Housing Director Mary Balkema has chosen to join Kalamazoo’s Foundation for Excellence

10 home development planned near former homeless camp in Kalamazoo

Former Deputy Mayor hired as a director to help fight homelessness in Kalamazoo County

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