Friday, November 16, 2012

The Beginning: Friends of Spaulding Court

In mid-2009, the community development capacity in Corktown was in shambles. GCDC, the local community development organization, was just months shy of bankruptcy and its democratic spin off, the Corktown Residents Council, was unable to find solid legal footing. A simmering tension between the two made institutional progress in the neighborhood excruciatingly difficult.

Meanwhile, the Wayne County Nuisance Abatement Program was in the process of seizing Spaulding Court from its absentee landlord. By December, with the property seizure nearly finalized and both the Residents Council and the Development Corporation foundering, a fresh organization was proposed that could steward Spaulding Court through a redevelopment effort. The entity was envisioned as a vehicle for local control. Its founding board had ten members; two from GCDC (Tim McKay and Matt Bode), two from Residents Council (Jon Koller and Emily Doerr) and six established residents who lived around Spaulding Court (Jim Brunell, Doug Bennett, George Alexander, Angie Johnson, Greg Willerer and Kristyn Koth). More on the founding board coming in later posts. The mission set upon by those 10 members was “to redevelop Spaulding Court in a way that promotes the strength and diversity of the Corktown community”. Within a week of incorporation, Friends of Spaulding Court had purchased the 20 unit complex from Wayne County for $1000 and assumed roughly $15,000 in cash liabilities. At Spaulding, two existing tenants—strong community members to this day—were facing leaking roofs, exploding water pipes and red hot electrical hookups in addition to the general atmosphere of danger created by years of high traffic dealing. The president of the nascent organization—that's me—proposed that the group follow a model he had recently observed at the nascent Green Garage that called first for stabilization to be followed by planning and then finally construction. The board agreed and set out a three prong approach to stabilization—physical, social and financial—that has taken nearly three years to actualize.

This coming January, for the first time, the rent coming from tenants will exceed bare bones operating costs (taxes, insurance and debt payments). Power and water now flow smoothly. A new roof keeps the south building dry and the remaining vacant units are all closed up. Meanwhile, the Soup at Spaulding program has helped fund over 30 small projects around the city. The wider community comes together at Spaulding Court for potlucks, parties, workshops and concerts.

Through all this stabilization work, Friends of Spaulding Court has not bound itself to a single grant agreement, federal contract or mortgage. Instead, the effort delved into fascinating territory with slow money, efficient quality of life, carfree discounts and reverse sweat equity.

These stabilization practices may be helpful models going forward at Spaulding Court and perhaps around Detroit—though it’s important to note that each was borne out of a specific situation, formed with limited experience, and encouraged by dire necessity. In short, they should be seen as valuable reflections of the stabilization phase but not binding commitments to the future. The process of collective visioning, strategic planning and detailing has yet to begin.

Posts about the founding board, carfree discounts, reverse sweat equity, efficient quality of life and slow money are coming up.

No comments:

Post a Comment