Former Notre Dame basketball star plans to build affordable housing in downtown South Bend
SOUTH BEND — Devereaux Peters remembers, in her first two years at the University of Notre Dame, frequently making the 6-mile trip from campus to Washington High School to watch her future teammate Skylar Diggins play.
Heading west over the St. Joseph River changed Peters' perception of South Bend. It was the late 2000s, and so many areas looked sorely in need of revitalization. Peters became aware of what she called the Notre Dame "bubble": "This bubble of wealth and the elites, and then you have this whole city outside that doesn't necessarily tap into that."
Peters, a standout forward at Notre Dame from 2007 to 2012 who went on to play professionally for years, is keeping this divide in mind as she plans to build 60 new apartments tailored to low-income tenants in downtown South Bend.
A vacant lot at the intersection of Michigan and Monroe Streets, known colloquially as the "Fat Daddy's block" in honor of the closed surplus store, is Peters' chosen site to invest more than $14 million to build a four-story, 65,000-square-foot apartment complex. Of the 60 units, 46 would be priced affordably to serve a spectrum of lower-income residents.
The project could stall, however, if the Indiana Housing and Community Development Authority rejects Peters' application for rental housing tax credits. Failure to be chosen for the highly competitive annual program, which reduces a developer's tax burden, has derailed multiple affordable-housing projects over the past five years, including a Wisconsin-based firm's plans to build senior housing in the old Fat Daddy's buildings.
The buildings were demolished in 2019 after the failed last-ditch effort.
Local support is crucial for any project seeking credits. The South Bend Common Council showed its backing of Peters' proposal Monday by approving a development plan that would save her $432,000 through tax abatement and sell her the city-owned parcel of land at 505 S. Michigan St. for just $1,000. The city would contribute an additional $1.5 million to build the necessary parking, infrastructure and streetscape improvements for the complex, according to Director of Neighborhoods Pam Meyer.
Meyer said developers in communities around the state apply for the housing tax credits. Funding decisions won't be announced until mid-November. City officials hope this project's location in downtown South Bend and Peters' commitment to rent prices below market rate works in her favor.
“It’s been a parcel of land that’s had an underutilized, poor-condition building for years, and then the building was demolished and it sat vacant," Meyer said. "I think it’s a prime spot on a main corridor, and hopefully that could be a catalyst, potentially, for other development in the area.”
Rent prices at the proposed development, to be called The Monreaux, would be set by unit based on how a household's income compares with the area median income. The 46 affordable units would be divided among households earning 30%, 50%, 60% and 80% of the AMI. The complex would offer a mix of studio apartments and 1-3 bedroom units.
If the tax credits are granted in November, Peters said, construction would begin July 1 of next year and aim to finish in November 2024.
From player to developer
Peters began working on this project three years ago, right around the time she woke up in a hotel room in France and decided she no longer wanted to play basketball professionally.
Drafted with the third overall pick in the 2012 WNBA Draft — the highest in school history at that point — Peters always swore that when the joy of playing left her, she'd stop. The eight knee surgeries and two hip surgeries she endured throughout her career, five of which sidelined her for much of her first three years in college, didn't help to prolong that outcome.
Now 32 years old, with professional stints in Minneapolis, Phoenix and overseas behind her, Peters chose South Bend because it's near her native Chicago and it's become a second home of sorts.
"I feel that my time in South Bend is really what helped me develop into a woman, through the relationships I built, the people that I met," she told The Tribune Monday, mentioning Diggins as well as Muffet McGraw, her Hall of Fame head coach, and Niele Ivey, who was Peters' assistant coach and now leads the Fighting Irish women's basketball program.
To bring her vision of affordable housing to fruition, Peters is working with consultant Ronald Gatton, a Chicago affordable housing developer who served as the city's regional director of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development during the 1970s and 80s.
Her challenge is to keep prices low while offering amenities characteristic of market-rate apartment complexes, such as a fitness center, complementary internet access and outdoor common spaces. Along with nutrition and business courses and job-training programs, the amenities are key to Peters' vision of empowering residents.
This commitment to providing lower-income people with services stems from Peters' feelings about a question she is often asked but hates to answer: What did she do to make it professionally, to achieve her goals?
"I hate that question because my path may not be your path," Peters said. "Because I know I had a ton of opportunities that other people may not have. ... I went to a private Catholic school. I went to a school that had a great girls’ basketball team, that was well known nationally for girls' basketball. I had a lot of opportunities to be seen and be in spaces that a lot of people don’t have."
As a Notre Dame alumna, Peters sees the development as a step to further erode barriers between the private university and South Bend. She pointed to the partnership between Notre Dame and city entities to create the Northeast Neighborhood Revitalization Organization two decades ago as inspiration. The university has become increasingly involved in local issues through its Center for Social Concerns.
Peters' career in real estate extends beyond South Bend. She's helping to build a dance studio on Chicago's south side for a Black-owned dance company. She's also working as a consultant on an affordable housing project in her native city.
"A lot of people end up in these situations where they kind of get stuck because they don’t have the same opportunities," Peters said of her mission. "So how do we create those same opportunities that people have when they’re living in these nice suburbs, when they’re living in these nice buildings? How do we create that for people who are struggling or don’t have as much money, so that they can build up to that point?"
Email South Bend Tribune city reporter Jordan Smith at JTsmith@gannett.com. Follow him on Twitter: @jordantsmith09