On Wednesday, March 13, a crew from Motor City Blight Busters began taking down VEJ's Hope House on the south end of Hope Park in Detroit.
By the end of the month, most of the building will be gone and the site made ready for a new Hope House to rise in the future.
In January, a water line broke and flooded the building. Mold did the most severe damage. Almost everything inside was a total loss. Insurance would not cover the $50,000 it would take to remediate the mold. Not only that, the insurance company said it would drop coverage of VEJ's other buildings if Hope House did not come down by March 22. On February 28, VEJ's board voted to remove the building right away.
"We knew that the foundation was rotten and that the building was likely to come down sometime in the future," said VEJ executive director BT Irwin. "So, we're really getting a head start on the permanent building that will go there."
Irwin said that replacing Hope House first came up in 2018 after inspections revealed that the 100-year old building did not have the "bones" for a renovation.
"Back in 2018, we started talking about the function of Hope House & Garden in the Hope Park neighborhood and what form a building should take to best serve the needs of the community and VEJ," said Irwin. "That is what led to the Kresge Foundation grant we got in 2020. That grant will help us work together with neighborhood residents to design and plan for what needs to be here next."
That Kresge-funded Hope Park Neighborhood Land Use and Vision Project kicks off this year and will lead to a new conceptual design and master plan for Hope House & Garden.
The board felt that removing Hope House could be like starting the Hope Park Project with a "blank canvass."
"It's a lot easier for people to imagine the possibilities for the site when they are looking at more open space there instead of a building," said Irwin.
Even without the building, programming will go on at Hope House & Garden in 2021.
"We will be working with Bees in the D, Keep Growing Detroit, NEW LEAF Detroit, and Summer in the City to grow lots of fresh food for and with our Hope Park neighbors," said Irwin. "We might even be able to bring our Sunday Dinners back to in-person gatherings by July or August."
While removing Hope House is a good first step toward building what the neighborhood says it needs and wants there, the circumstances and timing do hit VEJ hard.
"We are looking on the bright side and this will work out in the end, but it still hits hard, it still hurts, and the timing is still really bad," said Irwin. "The loss of everything in the building hurts. The cost of the flood and then taking down the building was not something we planned for our budget. We are taking a really big financial hit right at the start of our 2021 programming season. We just have to roll with the punches."
Friends and neighbors of VEJ can help in three ways:
Voices for Earth Justice is looking for a Detroiter to lead an important Detroit project.
This year, VEJ will launch the Hope Park Neighborhood Land Use and Vision Project. This project will give residents of the Hope Park area the resources, support, and tools they need to design the future of their neighborhood. This includes VEJ's Hope House & Garden at the south end of Hope Park in Detroit.
Major funding for the project comes from The Kresge Foundation. VEJ is contracting Detroit Collaborate Design Center at the University of Detroit Mercy and Michigan Community Resources to work with Hope Park residents.
Part of the Kresge grant will fund a contract Hope Park Project leader. The project leader will be the "face" and "voice" of the Hope Park Project. That means he or she will take responsibility for organizing the community to participate in the design process.
"This is supposed to be a project that is of residents, by residents, for residents," said VEJ executive director BT Irwin. "We're not asking what VEJ can do for the Hope Park community; we're trying to listen to what the Hope Park community wants to do for itself. Then we're trying to come alongside and offer whatever VEJ has to offer to be part of that vision."
VEJ is looking for a Detroiter with community organization and project leadership experience to head up the Hope Park Project.
"One of the really great things about Detroit is its community organizing ecosystem," said Irwin. "This city is extraordinary at growing leaders who know how to get things done."
To read the job description and learn how to apply, click here.