The Gordy Howe Bridge is on its way and will link Windsor to the Detroit’s Delray neighborhood. That construction, and eventual bridge, will cause some complications for the neighborhood and its residents.
Unfortunately, complications and problems are nothing new for this neighborhood, which has had to deal with health issues caused by heavy pollution from surrounding factories for years. However, this time, the City of Detroit has a deal to lend a hand and help them move out of the neighborhood with the Home Swap Program.
Through its Bridging Neighborhoods organization, it is offering a free home swap. That’s right – a free chance to switch deeds to homes. The city is even trying to place the Delray residents into the Detroit neighborhoods they desire in homes owned by the Detroit Land Bank.
“We are excited both to provide homes and to do it right,” says Bridging Neighborhoods Director Heather Zygmontowicz.
Residents can choose a home before they choose it through an open house or a private viewing with a Bridging Neighborhoods staff member. This is a swap program. No money will be paid for the home.
One of the first people to sign-up was Maria Walkenbach, 59, a lifelong resident in Southeast Detroit. Over time, the neighborhood changed, people moved, and her husband died, which made upkeep in her Delray home difficult.
When the offer came it seemed too good to be true and she inquired about the project. Walkenbach says it was when she saw Mayor Duggan at an early meeting that she knew she could believe in the plan.
She did her research, eventually deciding on moving to Warrendale, because it was safe, clean, close to her job, and a shopping center she likes. So Bridging Neighborhoods found a house for her in that neighborhood.
Even the needed renovations were provided by the city.
While all properties require different renovations typical renovated home receive new windows, siding (if applicable), and mechanical systems (plumbing, electrical, heating, ventilation, and air-conditioning ready systems). According to the city, renovations focus on energy efficiency.
The home Walkenbach chose needed:
- A new roof
- New siding
- New electrical sockets
- New carpet
- A boiler
- A furnace
- Work done on the stairs to make it easier
- And a bit more
Of course, it isn’t as simple as just walking into an office and signing a few papers. Like all participants, Walkenbach had to meet some requirements.
She had to live in the designated areas in Delray. Homeowners south of Fort Street, plus a few other properties north of I-75 is eligible to trade their house for one owned by the Detroit Land Bank Authority (DLBA), The eligible geographic area is designated by the blue and yellow zones of the Bridging Neighborhoods Program map.
Walkenbach also had to have lived in the house before June 23, 2017, had all of her taxes paid, and own the home.
However, it was almost a year’s journey to get into her new home. It can take six to nine months to get the new home ready, the city says. Aside from just the renovations, she had to attend meetings to make sure she was prepared for her new home.
Much of the prep is also done with the help of a Housing Consultant, from Bridging Neighborhoods, who works directly with the home-swapping citizen.
Walkenbach became close to her Housing Consultant, Evan Markarian, who helped her with taxes, advice on how to move, and acted as a go-between. The two remained in contact after all of the work was done.
There are also a housing Inspectors, who evaluate the cost of repairs, and a Superintendent of Residential Construction, Bob Bilderbeck.
Bilderbeck, who Walkenbach lovingly calls “Bon the Builder,” who oversees the inspectors and works with the residents when questions about renovation comes up, and coordinates utilities for the new home’s rehab.
After the swap, owners are required to stay in the home for at least three years, which shouldn’t be a problem for Walkenbach.
“I absolutely love (the house),” says Walkenbach. “Ifeel at peace here. I feel like I have lived here forever.”
Despite the so far low numbers, Bridging Neighborhoods has estimated there are around 220 eligible homeowners in Delray. It hopes as more success stories like Walkenbach’s come out, more people will sign up.
She is certainly doing her part encourage those numbers to grow. She tells everyone she can about the program, especially those in her old neighborhood back in Delray.
With the lack of gas stations, neighborhood stores, and things to do all in Delray cited by Walkenbach, it has been a relatively easy sell.
She has been talking with her neighbor in Delray about moving. The neighbor’s husband is hesitant, but Walkenbach says he is starting to waffle. She hopes having them over to her new house for the holidays could give the necessary push. She says it is also a plus that their son lives close to her new neighborhood.
Overall, Walkenbach is optimistic that many of her neighbors will become part of the Home Swap program, since many were skeptical they would move at all. Now that she has, it may prove to them it is not too good to be true.
The benefits don’t end with those seeking houses. With all the renovations needed in these homes, there is a huge call for contractors. While they still have to bid for contracts like any other job, there are a lot of potential houses to that need work in the city.
Interested contractors can get in touch via the Bridging Neighborhood website.
In the end, Walkenbach put it best, “Why would you not trade your $4,000 to 6,000 house for a $54,000 house?”