Tom Harris Architectural Photography

The new Ruth Ellis Clairmount Center provides a place for formerly homeless and at-risk LGBTQ+ youth to live and thrive in Detroit.

Developed by Full Circle Communities and the Ruth Ellis Center, the 43-unit community offers 34 permanent supportive housing units and nine affordable housing units through a Housing First, trauma-informed care model.

The primary target population is LGBTQ+ young adults between 18 and 25, but the development is open to other members of the community. Nearly all the recent residents have come from a shelter or other temporary housing arrangements.

The studio and one-bedroom units serve individuals earning no more than 30% of the area median income, with 34 units supported by project-based rental assistance from the Michigan State Housing Development Authority and other programs supporting the remaining units.

Tom Harris Architectural Photography

“LGBTQ+ young people around the country are disproportionately affected by homelessness, and yet there’s only a handful of housing programs designed to support their specific needs,” says Mark Erwin, executive director of the Ruth Ellis Center. “The Ruth Ellis Clairmount Center is an example of one of those. It’s one of the most comprehensive models available to address this epidemic nationwide.”

Beyond housing, the community includes a fully integrated health and wellness center in partnership with Henry Ford Health. There’s also space dedicated to supportive services provided by the Ruth Ellis Center, including offices for case managers who assist residents with career, health, and educational goals. In addition, a peer support specialist lives at the property.

The project catalyzed systemic changes within the Detroit Continuum of Care to better evaluate the challenges homeless youth face so that they can be prioritized for permanent supportive housing.

The $18.3 million community was built on land held by the Detroit Land Bank Authority and vacant for over 20 years. Financing for the development includes low-income housing tax credits.

“We know that the tax credit program is the most successful and widest for creating affordable and supportive housing,” says Carl Kunda, vice president of supportive housing at Full Circle Communities. “What sometimes gets lost is also how flexible it can be. We set out to assist one of the most vulnerable populations, with among the highest needs for supportive housing. When you have a real need and connect it with partners who mean what they say, you can work within the program to address something that has never been done before.”

A new cornerstone in the Piety Hill neighborhood, the development is named after Ruth Ellis and features a four-story mural celebrating her life. She was a pioneering African American Detroit activist who beginning in the 1930s offered shelter and support to the city’s LGBTQ+ population.