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There's not a lot of good news coming out of Detroit these days. There's the crumbling auto industry, relentless job losses, not to mention the foreclosures - thousands of foreclosures. But when it comes to housing, help is on the way and Jennifer Guerra of Michigan Radio reports it's coming from an unlikely source: artists.
JENNIFER GUERRA: Mitch Cope(ph) and his wife, Gina(ph) bought a house on Detroit's north side four years ago. Their 1920s brick house used to be a Polish deli. The garage still looks like a deli storefront, which is one of the reason they bought it. Plus it's only about a mile away from the design store they own. Their neighborhood is pretty mixed: some Polish and Ukrainian families, lots of recent Bangladeshi immigrants, not to mention quite a few drug dealers.
Mr. MITCH COPE: Been in the neighborhood for a long time, talk about how great the neighborhood used to be and they're like, well what are you doing now? Like, you know, okay, so it's gotten worse, yeah I can see that. But now what? Let's do something. Let's have fun.
GUERRA: So, the two artists decided to start small. They were sick of looking at the graying wood fence across the street, so they painted it bubblegum pink. They even got some of the neighbors to help. Then they set their sights on the foreclosed house down the street.
Mr. COPE: Typical house for the neighborhood, sort of a working class, wood frame, single family house.
GUERRA: When the house popped up on a real estate website for $1900 they bought it. Granted the place is not exactly move-in ready. Scrappers trashed it, stealing everything: the copper plumbing, radiators and electric lines.
Mr. COPE: So our idea was instead of put it all back, connect to the grid, we wanted to keep it off the grid and get enough solar and wind turbines and batteries to power this house, but also power the next-door house.
GUERRA: Cope calls it the powerhouse project. He thinks he can make the whole place off the grid for around $60,000 and he's applied for grants to help cover the costs. Since the whole point of the project is to better the neighborhood, Mitch Cope wants to turn the first floor of the powerhouse into a neighborhood art center. The second floor will be a bedroom for visiting artists. See, Cope's got this idea that if he can just get artists to visit the neighborhood, they'll want to stay and the cheap real estate will lure them here.
Mr. GREG PROFOTA(ph): Well, I've got to give him credit because he's on a new frontier, and the neighborhood is so worn down, it's going To take a miracle to bring it back.
GUERRA: Greg Profota has lived in these neighborhood his whole life. His family and friends moved out years ago and now he wants out too. His house has been broken in to three times. His garage? Six. Same goes for pretty much every house on his block. His advice?
Mr. PROFOTA: You've got to have an alarm system on your house or a dog or a gun because the neighborhood is terrible.
GUERRA: Which ones do you have?
Mr. PROFOTA: I got all three. Come on, porch. Porch. Get on the porch.
GUERRA: Cope admits that the powerhouse has already been broken into several times and he's been threatened. Yet he still managed to convince about a dozen working artists to move into the neighborhood. They're from all over: the Netherlands, Germany, Brooklyn. Jon Brumit(ph)is an artist in Chicago. He and his wife just bought a house in Cope's neighborhood for a 100 bucks. That's right: the price of a nice meal out for a family of four. Sure, the place needs a ton of work and it's not that safe, but Brumit says it's worth it just to help bring back this neighborhood.
Mr. JON BRUMIT: Coming into a place and trying to re-engineer some things in whatever way, I think, I guess I just see that as a great way to engage people.
GUERRA: Engaging people is one thing. But is it enough to convince people to stay and make the most of a run down Detroit neighborhood that so many have already given up on? For NPR News, I'm Jennifer Guerra.
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