Our CEO, John Van Camp, and NeighborWorks America CEO, Paul Weech, wrote an op-ed in the Detroit Free Press about the innovative and effective revitalization effort in the Marygrove neighborhood.
How do we bring back neighborhoods affected by the foreclosure crisis? There are many efforts going on across the country and right here in Detroit where important lessons are being learned.
The viability of neighborhoods like Marygrove is vital to the future of Detroit. Two years ago, this neighborhood was described as being at a critical juncture. If blight and vacancy persisted and spread, the investment that would be required to arrest the decline and turn this area around might be insurmountable.
There was an urgency to intervene. But how to do so effectively? That’s the question that a unique partnership of the City of Detroit, Detroit Land Bank Authority, Talmer Bank, Southwest Solutions and NeighborWorks America sought to answer. The intervention has been challenging and it has been a learning process, but the work there is making a difference and building momentum. The evidence suggests that the Marygrove neighborhood is on the rise.
The Marygrove neighborhood comprises 14 residential blocks, bounded by Puritan on the south, Wyoming on the west, Marygrove College on the north, and Greenlawn on the east. A survey done by Talmer found 72 abandoned houses in these 14 blocks.
At first, this strategy relied on giving the prospective homeowners incentives to purchase the homes through the Detroit Land Bank and use a $25,000 grant from Talmer to hire contractors to do the rehabilitation work. Southwest Solutions administered the grant through an arrangement funded by NeighborWorks America. This strategy resulted in several success stories. However, it also had its share of challenges.
Although the Marygrove homes for auction were structurally solid, many had sat vacant for years. Both the extent of renovation needed and the unforeseen problems that arise when working on these older homes, caused delays and extra expenses borne by the home buyers. So, Talmer and Southwest Solutions decided to alter the strategy and transfer the risk for the success of project away from the home buyers.
Southwest Solutions now acquires the homes from the Detroit Land Bank, and serves as project manager for the rehabilitation work, which is financed through Talmer. The finished homes are offered for sale through a realty company. Recently, two such homes on Cherrylawn were listed for $73,000 and $79,000 respectively. Both homes sold within two weeks and for more than the asking price. Clearly, there is a market for these rehabbed homes, stimulated by the growing understanding that the neighborhood is stabilizing and moving in a healthy direction.
Thirteen homes were rehabbed through the initial revitalization strategy. Another seven have been completed or are in the works through the revised strategy. Talmer has set an ambitious goal that every vacant house in the neighborhood will eventually be renovated. The hope is that market forces, buoyed by the success of this effort, will take over and complete the housing revitalization.
No amount of blight in a neighborhood is acceptable. It leads to negative economic, public safety, and psychological consequences for a neighborhood. It is imperative that neighbors, the community and policy makers think this way and act accordingly to create places of opportunity for all.
Replacing abandonment with home ownership is the first and necessary step for Marygrove to become a thriving neighborhood. There are considerable assets to build upon, including long-time homeowners, the quality of the housing stock and the proximity of the college and resurgent Livernois corridor. More steps are needed to strengthen public safety, schools, and employment; reduce property taxes and assist existing homeowners who want to repair their homes. This requires additional partners coming to the table to ensure that the momentum in Marygrove continues and ultimately prevails.
Some of the most innovative approaches to address urban issues are being taken in Detroit through distinctive public-private-nonprofit partnerships, and the lessons learned have important implications for other cities. The Marygrove initiative certainly illustrates this point. We are committed to bringing the lessons learned here across the United States.