Steven Harris, the founder of Rebound Construction
, has a lifelong connection to the North End. He was raised in the neighborhood by his mother and grandmother who sold cake, pies, and quilts. Harris inherited this entrepreneurial spirit and purchased a few homes in the North End during the recession and paid his way through architecture school by rehabbing them.
Rebound Construction launched in 2006 and within a year, Harris was able to reinvigorate a once-bustling business strip in the North End by rehabbing a building on John R Street, which now holds Transformation barber shop, Stef-n-Ty hat shop, and Ms. Lottie’s Old School Candy, a candy shop named in honor of his grandmother.
Harris's commitment to rebuilding the neighborhood through construction projects is coupled with a desire to reimagine the North End through social entrepreneurship efforts. Rebound Construction pairs younger people, people struggling with addiction, and returning citizens with more experienced contractors to teach them a hands-on trade skill. What began as a college thesis project idea has grown into a 30-person construction company with approximately $3.5 million worth of projects being completed in the North End.
Model D spoke to Harris about investing in communities in the face of neighborhood change.
Model D: Where did the idea of Rebound come from?
Steven Harris: I did a huge rebound thesis project in grad school where I was going to create this campus off of I-75 for young men who were still in prison. They could come to this campus and learn a skilled trade in construction or plumbing. They could do their last eighteen months to 3 years of their prison sentence here and come out with a real journeyman license or real trade skill and go right into the unions or the workforce as an entrepreneur. I rolled my thesis into my company goal.
How did you get the community involved?
SH: Many of my friends who were going to prison were good guys. They had non-violent crimes and they were coming out kind of re-offending, so I was trying to figure out a way to reduce the recidivism rate by giving these guys real skills. I knew they had different issues that were preventing them from working at some of the premier construction companies. Unfortunately, the truth is, they don’t give as many people of color the same opportunities.
Why do you think the North End is a good place to do this work?
SH: It's a natural progression, it's centrally located, it's five minutes from everywhere. You've got things that were happening in downtown Detroit that moved up through Midtown and then it moves up through the North End. Now it's going to start moving through Highland Park up to 8 Mile. I know this from sitting on different boards where I learned about mass transit and the master site plans of what areas would be best to invest in first. It made sense to me because I was from the neighborhood.
What changes in the neighborhood have you noticed?
SH: A lot of the criminal elements have been pushed away. I went from seeing or mentoring or talking to a lot of the riff raff to seeing them get killed or go to prison or go get a minimum wage job. At the same time, I've seen more diversity. White people are running around jogging, pushing their baby carriages, biking, and walking their dogs. This all happened at the same time. It's been this wave. I'm torn because I know that the people who are coming in have access to a lot more resources than a lot of people who were in the grassroots effort with me. I just wish we would have had more access to resources.
What hopes or wishes do you have for the North End?
SH: We've got a good quality of people who are still here. Some of the same type of investments or opportunities that are in Midtown or Downtown could roll into the North End along Oakland Avenue and Brush Street and John R. I'm really hoping for more tech companies, educational opportunities, and schooling. I'd like to see new development with an urban feel instead of a cookie cutter, suburban model. There needs to be more urban brownstones made out of brick that look like the houses that have been here for a couple hundred years.
This article is part of the "On the Ground" series, where a journalist is embedded in a neighborhood for three months to provide regular coverage.
Support for this series is provided by the Kresge Foundation.