Habitat Detroit Redeveloping Neighborhoods

Detroit’s neighborhoods.

They conjure up many images. From historical, stable neighborhoods with beautiful homes and rich legacies to those which have fallen into disrepair confronting challenges such as abandonment and blight. While many of the headlines come from significant investments involving downtown and Midtown redevelopment efforts, neighborhoods clearly need the same level of attention and resources. Until this happens, Detroit’s full potential and revitalization will not be complete.

Habitat for Humanity Detroit, which recently celebrated its 30th anniversary, is playing a role in redeveloping neighborhoods. In accordance with its mission statement, Habitat Detroit is building “…homes, community and hope…” in neighborhoods across Detroit, Dearborn and Lincoln Park.

And it is making a concerted effort to rebuild Detroit–one neighborhood and one house at a time.

Ken Cockrel, Jr., a longtime city government official, joined Habitat for Humanity Detroit earlier this year as its Executive Director. After giving me a tour of the Morningside neighborhood on the city’s east side recently, I talked to talked to him about Habitat Detroit, its impact on neighborhoods and his longer-term vision for Habitat Detroit.

Lee: Habitat for Humanity just celebrated 30 years. What changes have the organization experienced over the years?

Cockrel: In 30 years that Habitat for Humanity has been building or rehabilitating homes in Detroit, we’ve seen a lot of different changes in the social, economic and residential landscape of our community. In the last 10 years, especially we’ve been through a full cycle of economic change. From the housing bubble that burst to the devastating recession that hit the community and then the rebuilding efforts that have sparked a renewed birth, Habitat Detroit has been able to provide affordable home ownership to first-time home buyers.

Recently, we’ve been seeing housing values increase in the areas where we have been focusing our building efforts on Detroit’s east side as well as in some other areas like Dearborn, Lincoln Park and Ecorse. This an encouraging trend as we see our efforts are paying off to help stabilize these neighborhoods and communities not only in Detroit but across the region.

Lee: How is it funded?

Cockrel: Habitat Detroit is funded by local corporate and small business partners as well as individual donors.

Lee: You recently joined the organization. How’s the transition been and what’s your vision Habitat for Humanity over the next 3-5 years?

Cockrel: Habitat for Humanity is a strong and established brand, not only in Detroit but around the world. I am blessed to have joined this organization where I can continue working to rebuilding the residential communities of Detroit, something that I’ve been passionate about throughout my career spanning 20 years in the highest levels of our city government. We will be expanding our work into other neighborhoods in Detroit, including this year, we’ll be partnering with Central Detroit Christian developing new and rehabilitating existing properties in the North End community.

Beyond that, we believe there will continue to be a trend of people buying homes in the neighborhoods of Detroit and we will continue to see these communities grow and flourish again. Habitat Detroit will continue to make affordable home ownership possible.
Lee: There’s a lot of discussion about Detroit’s neighborhoods. Why is Habitat for Humanity important for revitalization of these areas?

Cockrel: Habitat for Humanity’s vision is to provide a place where everyone has a decent place to live. There has been a significant amount of money, time and effort spent on redeveloping the downtown and business districts of Detroit. We think that’s fantastic! Those areas are the economic hub of an urban center like Detroit. However, the neighborhoods occupy 93% of the city’s land mass and they need the same level of attention and investment in order to be the community hub that we know it can be.

Lee: How many neighborhoods and homes are involved across the city and how are they selected? Any plans to expand?

Cockrel: We have built or rehabilitated over 350 homes for first time home buyers. These homes are spread across the city in different neighborhoods. About 15 years ago, we decided to take a more intentional approach to create sustainable communities of choice. Neighborhoods like Core City, Tri-Centennial Village and Morningside on Detroit’s east side are all areas where we have been invited in by their community organizations and built or rehabilitated dozens of homes in each. We want to partner with community and neighborhood associations because we know there is a built-in support network and vision to make these communities great. We are expecting to break ground soon on a new development in the North End neighborhood during 2016.

Lee: You recently gave me a tour of Morningside on the east side. Frankly, it’s a tough area–however, I noticed people with pride who’ve moved into rebuilt and rehabbed homes, but there seems to be a contradiction. Boarded up homes next to rehabbed homes. How has this improved the overall neighborhood?

Cockrel: Morningside is a great neighborhood. It has a rich history on Detroit’s east side. Mayor Duggan spent a lot of time at his grandmother’s house in Morningside. Lear Corporation CEO Matthew Simoncini was raised in Morningside. There have been countless kids who have grown up on these streets who have accomplished great things in their lives. We desire to see this same neighborhood yield leaders of the future just like they did in the past.

Morningside is a very large neighborhood with well over 5,000 lots comprised within its boundaries. As such, there are many properties still in the neighborhood that are need of blight removal or rehabilitation. Yet, with the financial support of our sponsors, we’re able to continue to rehabilitate or build homes that we can and that also spurs existing home owners in the community to rehabilitate their properties. As a result of this, we are seeing home values increasing in Morningside for the first time in over 10 years.

Lee: What’s the overall acceptance of those who’ve struggled and stayed but yet, see new homes being built with new homeowners?

Cockrel: Last year during our Blitz Build event, when we built or rehabilitated ten homes around Clark Preparatory Academy, one of the two schools in Morningside, we had home owners who saw the activity and decided to pick up a hammer and volunteered with us during the week. One in particular said, “You’re not going to come to my neighborhood and me not help make it better.” We’ve had countless residents who have stopped us on the construction site who have said the same thing. They’re thankful we’re there helping to rebuild the neighborhood.

Lee: What’s the relationship between public safety and those living there as houses are being redeveloped?

Cockrel: Safety is a priority focus of the community neighborhood association. There are monthly COMPSTATS (computerized statistics) meetings facilitated by the local precinct attended by community stakeholders (residents, local precinct officers, neighborhood association, local schools/university, local CDC and HFH Detroit). The local police precinct provides attendees with timely and accurate crime statistics for the targeted area. Collectively, rapid deployment of resources are allocated to address hot spots, effective tactics are strategized and immediate follow-up is made.

Additionally, the neighborhood association meets monthly and key city government officials are at the meetings to provide necessary resources to address the concerns of the citizens. The neighborhood association continues to form block-clubs and recruits for the CB patrol.

Lee: Morningside and Grosse Pointe are separated by Mack Avenue. How have the communities supported each other?

Cockrel: We can only speak specifically about our organization, but we have a group of volunteers called the Grosse Pointe Partners who volunteer every month with Habitat Detroit and they donated funds each year to help build a home for a home buyer. This group, comprised of individuals from twelve supporting congregations in Grosse Pointe, has been extremely supportive of our efforts and, frankly, we’re proud to have their support.

Lee: What are the requirements for those wanting to qualify for a home?

Cockrel: Potential home buyers must meet certain requirements in order to qualify to buy a Habitat Detroit home: 1) They must show a legitimate need, 2) They must meet certain minimum and maximum income requirements, and 3) They must be willing to partner with Habitat Detroit in building their home and the homes of their neighbors. This is what we refer to as their “sweat equity.”

Lee: What type of support do you need from the business community and what opportunities are there for entrepreneurs/small businesses?

Cockrel: Businesses of all sizes can choose to support Habitat for Humanity Detroit in various ways. We have some who choose to sponsor an “Adopt a Day” where they bring a group of volunteers to work on site and they use this as team building or “community action” days. Other businesses provide in-kind donation of services, tools or products that help us do our work more efficiently and effectively. Just a couple of weeks ago, we had a small mower sales & service business who helped us perform an emergency fix to one of our chainsaws and didn’t charge us because he supported our mission. There are countless ways to help and there is plenty of work to be done.

Lee: How can people help?

Cockrel: We like to tell people they can choose to volunteer, donate, shop, advocate or buy a home. There are many ways for people to volunteer at Habitat for Humanity Detroit. From serving on the construction site to assisting with office tasks and helping with customer service at one of our ReStores, we literally have a volunteer opportunity for anyone and everyone. People can donate financially to help buy nails, roofs, windows, doors and carpet … all of those things that help make a house a home for a family. People can also donate their unused home furnishings and appliances to one of our two Habitat Detroit ReStore locations (www.DetroitReStore.com) where all of the profits from sales help us build more homes.

One of the lesser known things people can donate is to donate a house or property to Habitat Detroit. Some people are left with property as a result of life changes, death in the family or they need a tax write-off for other purposes, they can donate that property to Habitat Detroit. People can choose to advocate for quality, sustainable affordable housing initiatives. And, as we’ve mentioned, earlier, people can apply to a buy a home from Habitat for Humanity Detroit.

We love Detroit and we love providing these homeowners with strength, stability and self-reliance through home ownership.

For more information, prospective buyers can find out information at our website www.habitatdetroit.org. We will be accepting applications during our open application period June 1 – July 30 and will not open again until October 1.