In northwest Detroit, residents have been revitalizing their neighborhood for years

September 11, 2017

Melissa Anders, from Model D, interviews Beverly Frederick, a resident of the Rosedale Park neighborhood on Detroit’s northwest side, about beautifying her community, and using Detroit Future City’s Field Guide to Working with Lots to install landscapes that help to manage stormwater runoff.

In northwest Detroit, residents have been revitalizing their neighborhood for years
By: Melissa Anders
Model D
09/11/2017
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Devastated by the recent housing market crash and years of poor economic conditions, Stahelin Avenue was plagued by drugs, vacant homes, and burned down structures.

“We have nice stately homes, we had a wonderful income median at that time, and then here’s this street,” says Beverly Frederick, who lives near Stahelin Avenue in Rosedale Park on Detroit’s northwest side. “It was almost like a forgotten street—you drive past it real fast so you didn’t want to acknowledge that this was a problem within the community.”

Now, people ride their bikes down the street, Frederick says. Lots with abandoned homes have been converted into green space with a butterfly meadow, birdhouses, hydrangeas, roses, and picnic tables. The Detroit Institute of Arts even displayed artwork on the properties, and a ribbon-cutting ceremony was held for the street last year.

“We had a ribbon cutting for the street so that we could usher in some newness, a breath of fresh air, and show them that the community did care about them,” Frederick says. “We wanted to show them what hard work means. And believe me, it was a lot of hard work.”

Frederick is among hundreds of residents who have volunteered their time to clean up, beautify, and revitalize their neighborhood with the assistance of the Grandmont Rosedale Development Corporation (GRDC) and its Vacant Property Task Force throughout the last several years.

The GRDC, a nonprofit that serves five neighborhoods in northwest Detroit, created the task force as a direct response to concerned residents who asked for help convening a group to address the foreclosures and vacancies in their communities.

GRDC had already been renovating vacant homes and reselling them at fair market value to stabilize neighborhood housing prices. With the new task force of resident volunteers, they were also able to focus on property maintenance, code enforcement, and making sure homes weren’t blighted or open to trespassing, as well as foreclosure prevention efforts.

The task force has been credited with contributing to higher property values compared to other similar neighborhoods that lack such dedicated efforts.

Volunteers maintain lawns, plant flowers, and have even hung curtains and installed solar-powered motion-sensors on vacant properties.

“Our communities are really good at hiding the fact that there are vacancies,” says Chelsea Neblett, program manager for the GRDC. Neblett, who lives in the area, didn’t even realize that the house next to hers was vacant when she purchased her home.

“I completely attribute that to the neighbors who have a roll-up-your-sleeve attitude and will pitch in and help maintain and make sure it doesn’t look like a vacant property.”

There are 18 residents on the task force roster who regularly attend monthly meetings. Large cleanup events often attract 20 to 40 volunteers.

While the task force is fortunate to have dedicated volunteers and has built relationships with various organizations and government departments, it still faces hurdles with funding and access to resources, Neblett says. The task force applies for grants and raises money through events like benefit performances and wreath sales, but it’s always looking for additional resources, funding, and volunteers.

The task force advocates for the demolition of blighted properties and has worked with Detroit Future City’s Implementation Office to install landscaping that manages storm water runoff. It also partners with the United Community Housing Coalition and U-Snap-Bac to offer annual tax foreclosure prevention workshops to teach residents about assistance programs.

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