Resilient Neighborhoods: East Side nonprofit's big plans include community hub and housing project

Bishop Daryl Harris has fond memories of his formative years in the area now known as Detroit's Osborn neighborhood. A longtime resident whose Total Life Christian Ministries church is headquartered there, he recalls how it used to be aBishop Daryl Harris bustling place full of commerce and activity.

"Back in the '70s and '80s, there was nothing but plush housing and a lot of businesses up and down Gratiot and along the corridors of Six Mille, Seven Mile, and Eight Mile," says Harris. "The Detroit city airport was open for business and doing a lot of great things, so it became a thriving area."

While Coleman A. Young International Airport remains open to this day, there hasn't been any scheduled passenger airline service there for years and the Duggan administration has even considered shutting the terminal down

The East Side community of Osborn, located nearby, has likewise experienced a decline in fortunes over the last few decades, which Harris calls "devastating." Blight has crept in. The crime rate spiked so much that, for a time, the 48205 zip code where it's located became known as one of the highest in the country. And, according to Data Driven Detroit, the population dropped a staggering 27.3 percent between 2000 and 2010. 

But there has been a concerted effort by Harris and others to combat these trends and restore vitality to Osborn. For the last decade, he's been working with the Osborn Business Association (OBA) — a group the pastor now chairs — to support local businesses and business development. Harris is particularly excited about a project being spearheaded by OBA's nonprofit parent organization, the Osborn Neighborhood Alliance (ONA) to bring a new space called the Osborn Community Hub to the neighborhood.

Located at the corner of Gratiot Avenue and Hazelridge Street, the three-story building ONA hopes to rehab for the project once served as home to a dance club called the Beehive. The nonprofit is intent on converting the facility into a combined business and community space that will also serve as its new headquarters. 

Harris is proud of the work OBA has done to raise up local businesses and feels the new hub will continue the work of helping Osborn thrive once more.

"It's going to be something that helps the people, bringing business back to the area again and raising the pride of the neighborhood," he says. "I think it's going to be a wonderful thing."

Future site of the Osborn Community Hub.

Learning gardens and housing 

ONA got its start in 2006 as part of the Skillman Foundation's Good Neighborhoods Initiative. The nonprofit is governed by a board of 33 neighborhood residents andQuincy Jones (ONA) stakeholders. As its name suggests, ONA services Detroit's Osborn community, an area of northeast Detroit bounded by 8 Mile Road, McNichols Road, Gratiot Avenue, and Van Dyke.

While its plans for the Osborn Community Hub may be one of the more ambitious development projects the nonprofit has taken on, it's far from the only one. ONA got its start doing that work about six years ago, when Wells Fargo awarded the organization a $50,000 grant to help clean up an area on Mapleridge Street. 

"When we cleaned up, the board was really impressed and said, 'Let's adopt this area and just try to develop it,'" says Quincy Jones, ONA's executive director. "It  was boarded up and cleaned up so [we asked ourselves], 'What does that next level look like?'"

With federal funding, the nonprofit was able to take down several derelict buildings on the block. Then collaborating with the Greening of Detroit, Bank of America, and American Forests it established an outdoor learning garden, a 44-square-foot green space featuring benches, a mini-playground, and a variety of plants intended toFuture site of ONA's Mapleridge Housing Project attract butterflies.

ONA also rehabbed a home at 13770 Mapleridge Street, which was later sold to a resident who had been renting a place right around the corner. 

"That was kind of a beta testing to see if this is an area that people want to live in and get a mortgage," says Jones. "And we found out, when you clean up and make green space and renovate a home, there are people that want to live in the neighborhood and stay in the city." 

Building on that experience, the nonprofit is now focusing its energies there on what it calls the Mapleridge Housing Project. The $1.1 million effort will involve establishing around 18 new homes on Mapleridge street through a combination of renovation and new home construction. Several of the homes will be two-family flats with resident landlords who will live in one of the residences while renting out the other one. ONA is now in the final stages of securing funding from the City of Detroit for the endeavor. It plans to break ground on the project in October and expects construction to wrap up in late 2023.

Osborn Learning GardenA 'premier hub' for the East Side

Located not far from the future sight of the Mapleridge Housing Project, the Osborn Community Hub began its life prior to the pandemic as a joint effort with TechTown Detroit, which was interested at the time in helping to create a series of neighborhood hubs.

The two organizations held numerous meetings, surveyed local businesses, and even selected a site at 13334 Gratiot Ave. Then COVID hit and ONA found they would have to continue with the project on their own.

Work has continued, however. In fact, the nonprofit recently completed its renderings for the  7,000-square-foot facility. The blueprints show a facility brimming with possibilities. For businesses or residents looking for some work or meeting space, there are plenty of open and individual desk areas, multi-purpose rooms, collaborative spaces, lounges, as well as a printer/office center and kitchen. Beyond that, though, there is also a gallery, computer tech studio, fabrication lab, mechanical equipment and storage space, rooms that can be used for focus group testing, and a roof deck and outdoor courtyard that can be rented for events.

"We really want to be this premier hub for the East Side," says Jones. "We want toOsborn Community Hub rendering (ONA) support local entrepreneurs that want to have space, people that may want to rent out the building for local events, and also emerging tech companies that want to test out their products."

The ONA director feels the hub will serve as a great spot for different businesses to collaborate, as well as a place where community members, including local youth to meet, hold events and activities, and get access to computers and WiFi. He also thinks it will benefit local businesses, like the 

He also believes the building will be a boon to existing physical businesses in the area, like the Chinese and fish and chips restaurants that share a block with it, by increasing foot traffic and interest in the area. 

The new project has certainly piqued the interest of Arnthera Reynolds, an Osborn resident who serves as ONA's board chair.

"I can't wait 'til that's up and running, so I can be a part of it. the neighborhood needs a hub where people can come and mingle and work on projects together," she says. that's the one thing we don't have."

Right now, the ONA is focused on raising capital to see the project. Once that's done, the nonprofit hopes to break ground before the end of the year, if possible, and have renovations completed in 2023.

Harris, who participated in the facility's planning, hopes the new facility will function as a true hub, drawing people and interest to the area 

"I'm really looking forward to this hub continuing to add to the fellowship of the neighborhood," he says. "Just like we have downtown, we're hoping we can have an uptown, where people can come and just bring that pride back to the businesses that are there and attract more businesses that can remain and help the community."

All photos by Steve Koss, except where otherwise noted.

Resilient Neighborhoods is a reporting and engagement series that examines how Detroit residents and community development organizations are working together to strengthen local neighborhoods. It's made possible with funding from the Kresge Foundation.

Baseball Diamond in Osborn
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Read more articles by David Sands.

David Sands is a Detroit-based freelance writer. He's covered the news for Huffington Post Detroit as an assistant editor and worked as a staff writer for the transportation news site Mode Shift. Follow him on Twitter @dsandsdetroit.