Miles to the northwest of Midtown and downtown, the epicenters of development in Detroit, is a part of the city often mistaken for, well, Not Detroit. The five neighborhoods of Grandmont Rosedale collectively feel more like a cozy small town or well-off suburb than an enclave in a big and troubled city.
In a recent piece in the New Yorker
about growing up in North Rosedale Park, essayist Rollo Romig described these neighborhoods as similar to intentional communities
for having a "collective sense of purpose" that included a dedication to racial integration. Thanks in large part to the Grandmont Rosedale Development Corporation (GRDC), an organization launched at the close of the 1980s, the neighborhoods of Grandmont Rosedale maintain this collective sense of purpose today.
launched in 1989 and is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year. It began, and remains, very much a product of the five Northwest side neighborhoods that comprise the organization -- Grandmont, Grandmont #1, North Rosedale Park, Rosedale Park, and Minock Park. Their mission is fairly broad, says executive director Tom Goddeeris: to preserve and improve the Grandmont Rosedale neighborhoods.
The seeds of GRDC were planted in a now-defunct business association tasked with improving the commercial corridors of Grand River, McNichols and Evergreen, but a state grant program aimed at neighborhood improvement spurred the people involved to reconsider their mission and become a community development corporation for all four of the founding neighborhoods (Minock Park joined more recently).
Soon after incorporation, though, the founders realized they needed to concentrate on one thing -- the increasing levels of residential vacancy in the neighborhoods.
"We had probably two dozen vacant, blighted houses," Goddeeris says. "It focused our mission, to come to a stable block and find that one bad apple and stabilize it."
Over the years, GRDC has renovated and sold more than 100 formerly vacant and blighted houses to people committed to maintaining the neighborhoods as good places to live. They've also launched a home repair program that helps low-income homeowners fix problems that might otherwise cause them to leave their homes or let them deteriorate.
In recent years, GRDC's neighborhood stabilization efforts have been tested. The housing crash of the late 2000s hit Grandmont-Rosedale as hard as it did the rest of Detroit. Within a few years, vacancies shot up and housing prices began a severe tumble. Thanks in large part to the efforts of GRDC, however, this trend is slowly starting to reverse.
"There seems to be a lot of interest in moving to the neighborhood," says Goddeeris. "Even though we are a small organization, you can really can see the impact that our work has had in terms of keeping interest alive, with new people moving into the communities and setting new benchmarks for pricing."
One of those people is Hubert Sawyers III, who grew up in Grandmont Rosedale. He and his wife had been looking elsewhere in northwest Detroit when he saw an ad about GRDC's down payment assistance program offering up to $10,000 toward the purchase of a home. They qualified and purchased a move-in-ready home right down the street from his parents with all the beautiful detailing and fine craftsmanship of the 1930s-era homes common in Grandmont Rosedale.
Hubert Sawyers III
"In our house hunt, we ran across lot of homes that looked great on the outside, but some needed TLC and some needed extreme makeover work," he says. "When we walked into the house we now own it was a breath of fresh air."
Sawyers provides a perfect example of what GRDC hopes to do with their homebuyers program: bring in residents who will put down roots and contribute to the community, maintaining its close-knit nature. He's now the president of the North Rosedale Park Civic Association and has collaborated on projects with the other neighborhoods. Goddeeris introduced Saywers and his wife to other young families who were moving in, and they formed a rotating potluck dinner group. In what's undoubtedly good news for the neighborhoods of GRDC, there are just too many such families now and they need to find a new way to handle their get-togethers, Sawyers says.
He points to GRDC's role as a convener of the five neighborhoods -- its offices on Grand River serve as a de facto clubhouse for neighborhood associations and committees -- as a key to the neighborhoods' maintaining their high levels of resident involvement.
"A group like GRDC helps remind people what it takes to keep neighborhoods like ours intact," says Sawyers. "If GRDC wasn't around, I'm wondering how strong the neighborhood organizations would still be."
GRDC has expanded its efforts beyond housing stabilization and is now working to revitalize the commercial strips along Grand River, McNichols, and Evergreen. The group's efforts include purchasing vacant buildings and working to attract tenants. One of those buildings will open this fall as a co-working space and business incubator in partnership with TechTown
. GRDC has also been instrumental in the renovation and revitalization of Stoepel Park, the organization of neighborhood cleanups, and improvements to neighborhood safety.
"As our capacity grew, more and more needs have been identified in the neighborhoods," says Goddeeris.
All of this comes from talent that is pretty much the definition of homegrown. Goddeeris, like the majority of GRDC's small staff, lives right in the neighborhood. That, says Goddeeris, is a reflection of the type of people who live in the five neighborhoods and contributes greatly to GRDC's credibility with residents.
"It's the nature of the neighborhood that we can find a wide range of people with different skills and backgrounds right here. It's very clear that our mission is driven by the people who live here."
A point of pride for the organization is their credibility with residents, driven by that grassroots feel. They've become a neighborhood institution, the place where residents and funders turn when they have concerns about a new problem or spot a new opportunity they want to address.
Goddeeris is the second executive director of GRDC and has been there 23 of its 25 years. Among the things he is proudest of is that they have built up a great deal of credibility over the years, with a footprint in the city that belies the small size of their staff.
"As an organization, we have tried to make realistic plans and then carry them out," he says. "We have good relationships because we do what we say we are going to do."
Amy Kuras is a Detroit-based writer and frequent contributor to Model D who grew up in North Rosedale Park. Follow her on Twitter @AmyKuras.
Photos by Marvin Shaouni.