In Detroit, we celebrate just about anything. What other city goes press-release crazy when one building is purchased or a new retailer opens its doors?
That said, we also honor the important milestones, such as this week’s grand opening of the NSO Bell Building. Detroit’s Neighborhood Service Organization (NSO), with help from individuals, foundations and corporation donations, has turned this formerly blighted building into a beacon. It is a sign that everything can be recycled, dark rooms can again be filled with conversation and that people truly care about each other here.
Long known as the Yellow Pages Building, the 255,000-square-foot structure on Oakman Boulevard provides what the NSO describes as “permanent, supportive housing solutions,” designed to end homelessness. The facility now houses 155 apartments and other amenities for once homeless adults. Along with NSO’s headquarters with 200 staff, it also has support services there, such as gambling treatment programs.
Everything inside the NSO Bell Building is there for a reason – there is no wasted space. The neighborhood needed the energy. The building needed tenants. The community needed the support. It is a huge example of what happens when you take something that was nothing and turn it around, especially in Detroit. The transformative nature of this project cannot be underestimated, and it is so strong you can practically feel it built into the bricks now.
This reinvention took nearly $50 million to happen. That funding I mentioned earlier? It came from a combination of equity financing; donations by individuals, corporations and foundations; tax credits; and loans and grants from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, Michigan State Housing Development Authority, City of Detroit, Wayne County, The Kresge Foundation, The McGregor Fund, The National Trust Community Investment Corporation, Bank of America, Corporation for Supportive Housing, Local Initiatives Support Corporation and the Opportunity Resource Fund, as well as thousands of individuals.
Some more background: The NSO was established in 1955 as a private, non-profit human service agency. Its mission is to provide diverse and innovative community development programs and community services to meet the changing needs of the region’s population. It is focused on being “always within reach,” and it serves consumers across metropolitan Detroit through accessible programs designed to strengthen and empower individuals in their communities, support families and help those in need.
Its primary belief is the best way to end homelessness is to house people, so it have adopted the “Housing First” model. Once the person has a safe, stable home, NSO offers on-site wrap-around supportive services to help our residents manage and overcome the challenges that led to homelessness.
Much like our other public-private funding projects, this unique method of getting the job done for the NSO and Detroit is a great role model for how you can invest in what we’ll call “challenged urban environments,” as the NSO puts it. This is more than a few bucks for a dog park, golf course or other entertainment venue via Kickstarter. This is rebuilding Detroit in a way that shores up people and develops a community with heart.
For me, one of the coolest aspects of the building beyond the comfortable rooms and on-site services is the rooftop garden. Granted, this is not necessarily the best time of year to see greenery in Michigan. But there is something so right about having those sprouts take root high atop the Bell Building – there is a symbolism there that is obvious, fitting and soulful.
Wednesday’s ribbon cutting was an event, indeed. It showed off the best of people and the best changes in Detroit. It was a huge moment, attended by hundreds of people from all walks of life: government officials, funders, volunteers, donors. Anyone can find themselves homeless; we all know that. So we cannot help but stand in awe of what was accomplished here, what continues to happen and the work that it will take to keep this new, bright facility going long into the future.
To that end, if you feel like donating, several million more dollars are needed to finish the NSO Bell Building’s renovations. It took six years to get the building open and occupied; let’s not let this final end take that long. To help, go to this site and donate to the Kresge Challenge Grant, helping the NSO earn another $1.25 million for its rebirth. See your impact in a real, grand way.