THE DETROIT NEWS, by Mark Hicks
Excerpt: Raquel Castaneda-Lopez recognizes her high-profile position as the Detroit City Council’s first Latina member.
But having connected with people from many backgrounds over the years is an asset for her new role. “That’s really what shaped me,” the southwest Detroit native said Wednesday night. “My hope is to be able to represent those diverse perspectives.”
A ceremonial swearing-in was held for Castaneda-Lopez, the newly elected Detroit council member from the 6th District, who officially takes office in January. Castaneda-Lopez’s presence on the council represents a new chapter in the city’s history.
Written by Tim Thorland and Olga Stella
The following is an open letter to the residents of the Hubbard Farms neighborhood in Southwest Detroit. It was distributed by Southwest Housing Solutions' board and director three hours after Inside Southwest Detroit published an op-ed piece about community development and community engagement in Southwest Detroit. Although the timing of the distribution of both pieces were unrelated, it is important to highlight their relationship in full and fair presentation of available information regarding this issue.
This is to inform you that Southwest Housing Solutions (SWHS) has decided not to move forward with the development of the Broderick Apartments/Murray Townhomes project.
The decision was made following open and robust discussions with Board, residents and staff about the merits of the project, as well as meetings where residents shared concerns about and objections to it. This was a difficult choice for many, because the Broderick/Murray project aligned with a core mission of Southwest Housing Solutions: To provide quality affordable housing to families and individuals in need.
The organization’s decision ultimately boiled down to SWHS’ desire to develop a long lasting partnership with residents based on mutual interests and transparency. This also serves to announce that SWHS is taking the following steps to address public safety issues and concerns in our buildings and throughout the community:
-SWHS is putting resident property managers into all of its southwest Detroit buildings with more than 10 units.
-The two buildings in Hubbard Farms that have raised the most concerns will have “enhanced” property managers in place by the end of the year.
-Starting in November, the organization will hold regular SWHS tenant group meetings to address quality of life issues, including safety.
-A manager-level SWHS staff representative will participate on the Hubbard Farms Safety Committee. This staff person will contribute to the work of the committee as well as regularly report on issues and progress in our buildings.
-SWHS will participate with residents in planning future development and quality of life improvements in the neighborhood.
SWHS has already revamped and increased the size of its property management team to perform better in southwest Detroit. The team has been tasked with:
-Focusing on quality of tenancy rather than quantity
-Weeding out problem tenants (in our southwest Detroit apartments, over the past 18 months SWHS has evicted or forced out under threat of eviction 20 separate tenants for illegal behaviors.)
-Vigorously marketing SWHS residences within southwest Detroit (one sign of success is that 85% of the tenants in our most recent project in the neighborhood, the Scotten Park Townhomes, are from southwest Detroit)
In the immediate future, SWHS will contact the residents who have been taking a lead role in communicating community concerns so that a mutual agenda can be developed that will benefit all residents of Hubbard Farms.
Tim Thorland, Executive Director
Olga Stella, President
By Erik Howard
The following is an opinion-editorial piece. It is based on an excerpt from the "Springwells Voice Initiative", the writer's thesis on community development and community engagement.
Over the past several years there have been numerous physical development projects occurring across Southwest Detroit. Currently the neighborhood is host to a new line-up of development projects, community planning initiatives, and opportunities to shape the social and physical landscape of the neighborhood for the future, creating a considerable opportunity for community building and engagement. However, these opportunities for participation could just as easily evaporate and the subsequent development in all of its richness could inadvertently serve to marginalize people of the community.
Development Without Engagement As A Social Justice Issue
In the Vernor and Springwells neighborhood over the last nine years Southwest Housing Solutions, a local community non-profit organization with a long standing history of work in the community, has invested over $20 million dollars in commercial and housing development projects that did not include any type of community-level engagement or participatory design process. In fact, on occasion even remedial information about the development projects before and during their implementation were difficult to come by.
One community resident choosing not to be named who lives near Lawndale and Vernor indicated having never received any information in the mail or by flyers from Southwest Housing Solutions in the 5 years they have lived only several houses behind a major housing and commercial development of theirs. Last year the resident attended a fundraiser with the organization and now receives regular mailings from the organization with updates and contact information for the agency. This highlights missed opportunities in communication and outreach for our mission-driven non-profit corporations who are responsible for developments that affect thousands of residents’ daily lives and routines.
These development initiatives look great on paper (and in pictures) as they rejuvenate highly visible spaces by improving visual real estate, providing alternative housing options, increasing density, bringing increased economic/ethnic diversification of community blocks and neighborhoods and opportunities for innovative, high quality property management and resident services.
They are made to look even more promising with the prospect of community non-profits with strong histories and commitment to mission driving these projects as the developer and property manager. But in reality, the wonderful opportunities inherent in the magnitude of physical development also have the potential to marginalize rather than empower portions of the community population.
From Lawndale To West Grand Boulevard Along Vernor
Residents across Southwest Detroit, especially on streets where these developments exist, have expressed strong opinions and possess bases of local knowledge regarding their community and multi-unit apartment complexes. However, in many cases with recent development projects, neighbors are completely unaware of what is going on right next-door or down the street from their homes. There are residents who have reportedly attempted to communicate with them and have been made promises that were broken or even been ignored.
In the Hubbard Farms neighborhood, near West Grand Boulevard and Vernor, local residents recently experienced these lapses in communication and cooperation. Though the residents in that community have a history of partnership and communication with Southwest Housing Solutions they were shocked to learn of the organization’s plan to develop the Broderick-Murray, another large apartment complex on Vinewood and Shady Lane. They learned this by mail in a mandatory notification of re-zoning sent by the City of Detroit. It wasn’t until they inquired further that they learned of the organization’s plans. This took place while residents were still trying to sort out issues they have been having with multiple properties developed, owned, and managed by the same organization in the same neighborhood.
It is worth mention that connected to each development is significant incentive for the completion of development projects, regardless of property management performance. The dollars invested in the development itself come from public tax credits and loans and not from the investment of the organization’s capital. Southwest Housing Solutions’ investment in the properties does not include the dollars that the organization receives upon completion of the development. But the organization’s capital increases with each development.
Community residents learned from the Michigan State Housing Development Authority (MSHDA) that the currently proposed development should yield the organization $1.2 million in revenue for unrestricted use.
Despite ongoing requests, there is currently no public master plan for Southwest Housing Solutions’ ongoing development in the neighborhood. Additionally there is no publicly communicated strategy for meeting the organizational or financial burden of providing adequate property management for the already developed properties across the community. Yet numerous issues loom and new developments are on the horizon.
Informal community hearings held by residents of Southwest Detroit in 2011 and 2012 temporarily yielded the organization's attention (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/patrick-geansali/southwest-solutions-hearing_b_1277583.html). For several months the organization appeared assertive about meeting with select concerned parties, steering the narrative about the organization, and even meeting with and expressing a desire to establish renewed commitments to community organizations and partnerships.
In a specific instance SWHS director John Van Camp agreed to sitting down with small groups of invited stakeholders to field questions and concerns as well as for the organization to state their ongoing commitment to the community. Eventually the hearing and subsequent community meetings with residents, organizations, and partnerships led to the establishing of a new position of Community Engagement Director to which they appointed Southwest Detroit native Ozzie Rivera and added the position to the core leadership team of the organization. Ironically in the wake of the SWHS announcement of their new position, as the outside pressure subsided, communication between the organization and the community again dwindled. Recent violent incidents connected to Southwest Housing Solutions' apartments as well as newly announced developments have re-energized community residents and organizations to again seek out opportunities to communicate and plan with SWHS.
Michael, a former Southwest Housing Solutions resident who asked his last name not be shared, said that, "All around the building right here where I live… you got the three kids that were shot and (two were) killed right here outside my door. Then the other ones that got shot right around the corner in front of their other building a few months back. Then, my apartment has been broken in to three times. People aren't supposed to be able to get in to our buildings, but they can. Southwest Solutions says you have to get the police report and then give it to them but they still do not do anything. They’re even saying I have to pay to fix my own door even though it wasn’t working correctly for over a year before it was broke in to and I was locked out of my apartment. Now I don’t even have anything inside my apartment. Its empty pretty much. Just something to sleep on. "
Another former resident of Southwest Housing Solutions, Kadeem Whitehead, highlighted that “When we first moved in it seemed real nice. The kept everything real clean inside and out… the carpet, everything. Then when something would happen we just couldn’t get anyone to do anything like maintenance work and the heat not working, and there were bedbugs all over the building real bad. I have a child. They wouldn’t do anything to help us with that. Everybody had bed bugs. The whole building was affected. When we would try to contact Southwest Housing Solutions about the problems they told us we had to call a number that would always send us to a voicemail and we wouldn’t get followed up with.”
Engaging Community In Development Enlists Local Wisdom In The Development And Management Of Projects That Will Affect The Community
Without an appropriate sampling of the community involved and sharing insights, the renewed bricks and mortar of buildings that exist on blocks with deep histories of gang and drug culture become weapons against the healthy development of people and place in the community. For example, concentrated poverty, mental illness, and addiction in areas of the community where there are strong and viable drug markets may be a potential risk worth considering in strategies for development and property management.
As community non-profits fill gaps in civic services that a cash-strapped city cannot provide we need them to remain healthy and supportive of their mission to promote the development of people and places in the community.
Efforts to incorporate community engagement from the start of a project increases awareness, the frequency and quality of communication between decision-makers and residents, and feelings of community pride and ownership. Community residents require a strong voice at the table to be heard over the traditional power structure that hears dollars over participants in design processes. Community engagement and participatory process in community development can provide a jury of resident voice and public opinion.
Photo 01: Southwest Housing Solutions' renovated commercial and residential development near Lawndale on Vernor at Cabot. The development is home to the Campbell Branch of the Detroit Public Library.
Photo 02: Southwest Housing Solutions' commercial and residential development on Vernor at Cabot.
Photo 03: Scene from triple shooting on Cabot that resulted in two deaths outside the door of an interviewed apartment tenant.
Photo 04: Apartment building developed by Southwest Housing Solutions on Carson and Pitt.
Photo 05: Graffiti on the front of a building and sidewalk remembering the death of a young man that was killed in front of the Southwest Housing Solutions' apartment building on Lawndale near Whittaker.
Photo 06: Conditions of entryways, parking lots, and hallways inside Southwest Housing Solutions apartment buildings on Vernor and Lawndale. While interviewing residents we were able to gain entry to each building in the area of Lawndale and Vernor without assistance.
Omar Berrocal plays piano for a wedding at Our Lady Queen of Angels on Martin near Michigan Avenue in Southwest Detroit in the featured photo above. This day the Lopez family celebrated marriage with a small gathering of close friends and family at the church. After the ceremony the couple and their guests headed out to celebrate with blue skies, food, music, and dancing at Lake St Clair.
WDET 101.9, by Martina Guzman
A seven acre lot at the corner of West Vernor and Livernois will be visited by eight national land use experts from the Urban Land Institute this week. The group will explore possible strategies for the redevelopment of the former Detroit Public Works site. The swath of land is a prime piece of underutilized real estate in the heart of Southwest Detroit. Spearheading the initiative is Kathy Wendler…President of the Southwest Detroit Business Association. She says the redevelopment effort is significant because of where the lot located.
“It’s critical because it’s in the center of a 120 thousand person population, it’s in an important neighborhood in the city of Detroit. it’s had a growing population for the last twenty years.”
Wendler says possible outcomes for the land include a commercial site or a plaza for the community.
I’m Martina Guzman WDET News
Listen to audio here: http://wdet.org/news/story/toxic-lot-southwest-detroit-gets-makeover/
One of the many great characteristics of Southwest Detroit is that each individual block displays unique features, people, and culture that wouldn't be obvious to an unfamiliar passerby. When one is aware of this quality it becomes slightly easier to pickup on the signs that a given block hosts a tight-knit micro-community. One such community exists on Merritt Street.
Alejandra Martinez and her husband have made their home on Merritt Street and are the proud parents of five children. Although a majority of our Latin American neighbors have roots in Mexico, this is not the case for everyone. The Martinez-Castillo family, originally from Uruguay, is a healthy reminder that there are many unique paths that were followed as Southwest Detroit’s residents have made this their home. Like many others from Uruguay the family's ancestry comes from both Spain and Italy. When the family decided to immigrate from Uruguay to the United States their first stop was in New Jersey. Their initial destination lacked affordability and employment opportunities so seven years ago they ended up in Southwest Detroit.
Alejandra's sense of comfort at her home and on her block demonstrates why their family has stayed in Southwest Detroit. After living in a few different locations across the community they found their permanent home on Merritt Street.
On Merritt Street the parents and kids are excited to gather together around some good old-fashioned, unplugged traditions. Nothing affects the feeling of a block more than your relationships with your neighbors. Here, much like their family, the micro-community of neighbors on the block is kid centric. As we move along through history, our younger generations seem more and more preoccupied with digital entertainment in the form of video games, apps, and cinema. The Martinez family and their neighbors take the opportunity to gather and keep the kids busy with water play on the sidewalk with swimsuits and hoses. Captured in the photographs is one of these times as they tried to beat the heat on a 90+ degree day in July. This scene carries a small part of what is so attractive to them about their block and their community.
"For the love of lowriding." This is what Impala Tone of the Westside Detroit Majestics says is the motivation for the Majestics' annual get togethers. In fact, you will hear this repeated over and over as a reason for why club members and solo riders consistently come out of their pockets and comfort zones to gather with others across car club, ethnic, and neighborhood lines.
Southwest Detroit is the home to a handful of riders on Southeastern Michigan's lowrider scene including several members of Detroit's Uso, Majestics, and GoodTimes chapters. A larger number of lowriders have grown up in the neighborhood but have since relocated. Often lowriders who grow up in Southwest Detroit eventually get older, get jobs, and move to neighboring communities. But their cars and love for lowriding go with them. And, as if on auto pilot, they always find their way back to Vernor. For this reason it only makes sense that there are several spots in the neighborhood that host various annual events as well as informal cruising on the weekend. Vernor from Patton Park to Clark Park is a strip that attracts cruisers on the weekend. Also Clark Park, Western International High School's parking lot, Bagley and 21st Street, and countless numbers of taco trucks, taquerias, and local businesses are all popular among lowriders throughout the summer.
Cinco de Mayo weekend is considered the beginning of the lowrider season in Detroit. The parade has historically hosted a number of lowriders that gather afterwards for riders and spectators to enjoy. The Blessing of the Lowriders, hosted by Uso's and GoodTimes' Detroit chapters, coincides with this kick-off. For the past several years the Blessing has taken place at the Bagley Mercado at the foot of the Ambassador Bridge and is an opportunity to celebrate and consecrate the beauty and spirit of lowriding in Southwest Detroit. It recognizes lowriding as an opportunity for youth, adults, and others to gather around a mutual interest. From May-September the "official" season plays itself out through picnics, cruises, shows, and other events.
The Majestics' Hot Sunday gathering was hosted this past weekend on a cool, Fall-like afternoon. Riders came out for what is often one of the last opportunities to gather for the season (due to the weather). For the past 5+ years the Majestics have hosted a Saturday movie night for lowriders at the Ford-Wyoming Drive-In in Dearborn followed by Hot Sunday between Clark Park and Western HS the next day. Having the opportunity to gather so late in the season allows riders to reflect on the season that is coming to a close and talk about what the next year holds for the love of lowriding.
Kathy Perez grew up in Southwest Detroit and will turn 15 soon. For her and her family both are a big deal.
Abel, Maria, and Kathy moved to Southwest Detroit from Inglewood, California in March of 1999 in search of better jobs and a community to raise their young family in. They would miss their home community but the promises that a move to Detroit offered were too much to pass up. They settled in to their new life in Detroit with a shared home on Lexington and memories of California. It helped the transition that Kathy's grandparents moved here a few short months earlier and also that there was a growing population of Mexican descent. Both helped Detroit feel a little more like home.
Abel, Kathy's father, is a lowrider and member of GoodTimes Car Club. Southwest Detroit is often associated with lowriding but this was not always the case. Before their arrival GoodTimes CC, an LA-based lowrider car club, had no Detroit chapter. But within six months GoodTimes' Detroit chapter was cruising Vernor with Kathy in tow. This little piece of Los Angeles that they brought with them would become a big part of Kathy's Southwest Detroit. In the late 90's and early 2000's the neighborhood witnessed an increase in the existence of quality lowrider bikes, cars, and national car clubs with local chapters. Now you can catch quality lowriders at the park, on the main streets, and in local parades and celebrations.
As work picked up Abel and Maria were able to purchase their first home together in Dearborn, a neighboring suburb in 2004. Kathy and her family decided to allow her to continue to attend elementary school in Southwest Detroit to be with her friends and family rather than disrupt her progress with a move. Since her grandparents were still in the neighborhood getting Kathy to and from school and having a place to stay would not be a problem. As an incoming sophomore in high school she is grateful for this decision as she still attends school with many of her childhood friends and is close to her family as a result.
Now that she's turning 15 it is important to the family to celebrate all that she is with all that they can. This age is often celebrated with a quinceanera as a transition from childhood to adulthood among many Latin American cultures.
In communities across the United States its not uncommon for lowriders to be a part of this coming-of-age ceremony. A quick search of 'lowrider quinceanera' will yield photographs of brightly painted rides and groups of formally dressed teens from Los Angeles, San Jose, and Nevada to Arizona, Texas, and New Mexico. So naturally both Kathy and Abel were excited about the opportunity for GoodTimes Car Club shuttle her from the church to photos to the reception hall during her day.
Cars cruised, mass was celebrated, family cooked, DJ's spun, guests danced, and Abel and Maria thanked everyone for their participation in Kathy's life as well as her big day. The message was clear: both would be less without them. Quinceaneras are often successful because what everyone offers becomes more than the sum of its parts when its shared freely and celebrated in honor of something close to everyone's heart. Sometimes this is true with the life of a child, an extended family, or the development of a community. This day it was Kathy.
Written by supporters of Raquel Castaneda-Lopez
Born and raised in Southwest Detroit, Raquel Castaneda-Lopez understands the gifts and challenges of living in our community. As the third of eight children, she grew up in poverty, helping to care for her siblings after her immigrant father passed away.
Inspired by her mentors and peers at Alternatives for Girls, Raquel pursued a career in social work. A first-generation college student, Raquel earned her Bachelors of Social Work from the University of Montana and a Master’s of Social Work from the University of Michigan.
Raquel has both global experience, working with leading social entrepreneurs in India, and local Detroit-based community organizing experience working with multiple non-profits in the area. In addition, Raquel has been civically engaged her whole life, including managing the campaign for State Representative Rashida Tlaib. Raquel currently coordinates a nationally-recognized student service program with the Center for Latino/a & Latin American Studies at Wayne State University, helping students from our community get into college. Spending the time to listen to each and every residents' concerns was vital to building her political platform.
Through her grassroots campaign for Detroit City Council, Raquel has strengthened community ties and connected with residents by knocking on nearly 7,000 homes. She is backed with the endorsements of State Representative Rashida Tlaib, the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) of Michigan, the Detroit Police Lieutenants and Sergeants Association and the Michigan Spanish-Speaking Democrats. In a race filled with candidates new to District 6 and community issues, Raquel is the only Latina candidate with long, active ties in her community. Raquel's international and domestic work experience, passion and experience with the community, make her the only candidate able to bring the true voice of District 6 to Detroit City Council. Raquel knows that now is the time for change in Detroit, and she is ready to be the voice our community so desperately needs.
If you would like to see words about your favorite candidate for the upcoming Detroit City Council elections by district, please send between 250-400 words to firstname.lastname@example.org
Each year Corktown hosts their 'Corktown Historical Home and Garden Tour'. Residents of the neighborhood open their yards, porches, and homes for sharing with visitors to appreciate the history and beauty on the treets between the Lodge Freeway and 15th along Michigan Avenue. The image featured here is taken from Leverette facing Church Street.