100 Houses: Help board up danger
They were homes once, but they are homes no longer. They are hollow dangers. Hiding places. Drug houses. They are lurching shadows that stare down our city's children as they walk to school. There's a real home; there's a shell of a house. There'...
They were homes once, but they are homes no longer. They are hollow dangers. Hiding places. Drug houses.
They are lurching shadows that stare down our city's children as they walk to school. There's a real home; there's a shell of a house. There's a neighbor; there's two shells of houses. A child wonders who just ducked behind a smashed window or why that doorway is wide open.
The child is scared -- with good reason.
And we need to stop it.
On Saturday, Aug. 25, I am helping organize an event in Detroit called "100 Houses" to make the streets there a bit less frightening for kids. The goal is ambitious, but simple: Board up 100 houses in a single day.
That's right, 100 houses.
We can do this. In a way, we must. Because the Abandoned Home has become a terrible symbol of Detroit. Left behind by someone who couldn't pay the mortgage. Bid farewell by someone who couldn't deal with the city. These places, like animal carcasses, are quickly stripped of anything valuable -- right down to the pipes -- and then begin their steady slide into the muck. The windows and doors are soon gone, smashed or destroyed by people wanting to use the place for shelter, hiding, prostitution, drugs.
When one house like that goes down, it affects the block. When many go down, it affects the neighborhood. Families leave. They walk away.
And what's the result?
Another abandoned house.
Several times over the last few weeks, we rode and walked the streets of the chosen "100 Houses" neighborhood, around Osborn High School, by 7 Mile and Hoover. There is an elementary school in the area and several parks as well. We charted the structures we plan to board up. On streets like Dresden, Waltham, Goulburn, Alcoy. Two-story houses. One-story houses. Wood. Brick. With porches. Without porches.
Most were once fine homes. Now they are bent, broken, peeling and knocked full of holes.
"What are you all gonna do?" we were asked by teenagers and middle-aged men who wandered over in curiosity.
"We're going to board these up," we answered.
"About time," came the frequent response.
And it is. Look. We're not kidding ourselves that this is a permanent solution. That will come when these structures are knocked down or refurbished and occupied by hopeful citizens rebuilding their neighborhoods.
But if we don't patch up the blocks that still hold families, there may not be neighborhoods to rebuild. The city doesn't have the money. It won't for some time. There are an estimated 40,000 abandoned structures in Detroit and, according to a Free Press analysis, more than 5,000 within a quarter-mile of schools.
The state Legislature and governor have allocated $10 million to knock down hundreds. Good, but not enough.
Mayor Dave Bing has plans to raze 1,500. Good, but not enough.
So we need to kick in. Human capital can best make our city human again.
That's you and me.
Already, several generous and civic-minded companies have jumped on board "100 Houses." Bolyard Lumber in Birmingham is providing all the wood. Belfor, a property restoration company headquartered in Livonia, is cutting the wood and providing men, equipment and dumpsters. Mosher & Associates in Birmingham is bringing crew and clearing the brush and overgrowth that makes these properties even scarier. Home Depot has offered to help. Blight Busters, Detroit Rescue Mission Ministries and other community groups are pitching in. With volunteers.
No, we won't this city in a day. But there will be 100 fewer dark and shadowy dangers to kids who head back to school in a few weeks. You start with 100, you see where it takes you. Maybe someplace great.
At the very least, in the right direction.
Mitch Albom is a columnist for the Detroit Free Press.