Because of her sentimental history with the Bagley neighborhood in northwest Detroit, Lina Cammon felt a strong pull to leave her suburban senior living residence and return to the area. She is 75 years old, but life is a story always looking to be written, she feels. And she has ambitious plans for this new chapter.
Lina was also interested in owning a home that had been abandoned and was now restored. This, too, expresses her life philosophy. She deeply believes in the power of caring intervention to change things for the better. That’s why she became a teacher more than 40 years ago and why she continues to work full time to help students struggling with math and English at Mackenzie Elementary-Middle School.
Lina is the first person to purchase and move into one of the rehabbed houses available through a unique partnership between Southwest Solutions, the AFL-CIO Housing Investment Trust, the Michigan Building and Construction Trades Council, IFF, and the City of Detroit. The partnership is called Building Detroit Futures.
Phase One of this effort involves 17 houses, mostly in the Bagley neighborhood. Building Detroit Futures acquired the houses from the Detroit Land Bank. The Housing Investment Trust provides the funds for acquisition and rehab. Southwest Solutions serves as project manager, works with realtors to market the homes, assists homebuyers with their mortgage needs through Southwest Lending Solutions, and offers other support services, including homebuyer education workshops, which Lina completed to be better prepared for the entire process.
“I’ve owned houses before, but this is the first one I really feel is my home because I bought it completely on my own,” Lina says. “The moment I entered the home when it was for sale, it felt right to me and I envisioned myself living here.”
Lina bought the four-bedroom home on Ohio Street for $87,000. She has family and friends in the neighborhood, where she had lived 50 years ago after getting married. She continued to raise her son there after her marriage ended. Then once her son left home, she sold the house and moved away.
“I never stopped loving this neighborhood and I’m thrilled to be back,” Lina says. “I feel in my element and safe here. I’m getting to know my immediate neighbors and I feel we have much in common and are committed to the community.”
The Bagley neighborhood is just north of the Fitzgerald neighborhood, which is the focus of an intensive and unprecedented revitalization experiment that has important implications for other Detroit neighborhoods. Earlier this month, Mayor Mike Duggan announced the City and its partners will invest more than $4 million in Fitzgerald to renovate 115 vacant houses, remove blighted structures, beautify 192 vacant lots, and build a new park and greenway.
Marygrove College is at the northern edge of Fitzgerald. Within a 14-block area south of the campus, more than 70 abandoned houses were cataloged three years ago. Since then, Southwest Solutions in partnership with Chemical Bank (formerly Talmer Bank) has been engaged in rehabbing and selling 20 of these houses. This effort has helped stabilize the neighborhood, raise property values, and spur development momentum. The Building Detroit Futures initiative in the Bagley neighborhood, which will certainly benefit from the Fitzgerald investment and momentum, is intended to make a similar impact.
“I’m optimistic about the resurgence of our neighborhood,” Lina says. “And I want to a part of it.”
Lina will be retiring from Detroit Public Schools in the near future. It will actually be the third time she will have retired from DPS. However, she has no intention of giving up teaching. She plans to start a home economics school where students can learn about household management, cooking, sewing and other skills. Lina wants to locate this business in or near her neighborhood and hopes it will contribute to the revitalization of the area.
Lina also intends to continue teaching young girls about dance. She currently runs an after-school workshop two days a week for young girls at Mackenzie.
“It’s very important for children to have opportunities to develop all their potential, including artistic expression,” Lina says. “They must also understand that learning is a lifelong experience and this is the key to a fulfilling life. Moreover, we must all understand that developing our children is the real key to revitalizing our city and our neighborhoods.”
To learn more about Building Detroit Futures, visit its website.
– Steve Palackdharry is director of communications at Southwest Solutions