Original Charter

PLEASE NOTE THAT THIS WAS THE ORIGINAL CHARTER, AND THE PROJECT HAS ORGANICALLY EVOLVED. WE INCLUDE THIS DOCUMENT AS BACKGROUND.

Executive Summary

Crow House is a new non-profit (NPO) 501(c)(3) organization.  Its mission is founded in the urban settlement house tradition and it is located in the Chadsey-Condon neighborhood on the west side of Detroit, MI.  The specific mission at the Condon site is to provide place-based community education, focusing on sustainability and community organization.

The goals of the Condon Crow House for 2016 are to complete the federal NPO application, move forward with the renovation of the community house, and establish a permaculture demonstration and teaching site.  These processes engage and embed community learning and education through service-learning workshops.

After the neighborhood house is habitable and the adjacent permaculture site designed with initial ground implementation (target date of 9/16) – both of which are community engaged projects – a robust perennial programming calendar will be developed in conjunction with the NPO advisory committee and community feedback.  These programs will range from a weekly community dinner to support microlocal food security to a joint urban scholar with community activist-in-resident fellowship, which will continue to connect disparate stakeholders through place-based action.  Many of these programs will focus on youth, but the full spectrum of programming includes all ages and residents from any area of Detroit.

Project Purpose/Justification

The Dow Sustainability Fellow projects are focused on interdisciplinary sustainable projects, often with a community focus.  This project differs from many traditional projects in that it is not mediated through a client, but a ground-level, community-based, original creation of our team.  It responds to needs assessments conducted through the School of Social Work in 2014-15 through the Community-Based Initiative.

Need/Case

The Chadsey-Condon neighborhood (CCN) is located in Southwest Detroit.  According to the Skillman sponsored Data Driven Detroit demographic report, it varies significantly from the city’s population.  CCN houses 52.8% Latino residents, 23.1% White residents and 20.8% African-American residents.  However, this data may be somewhat misleading for the purposes of Condon House’s immediate community, because as its name suggests, the site is located in the Condon neighborhood:  Chadsey-Condon is a Skillman Foundation construct which is useful, but not fully accurate, demographically.  Our final report will distinguish by census tracks, but based on field observation, Condon appears to have a larger African American population than Chadsey:  the Condon side is closer to traditional Black settlements, whereas Chadsey is closer to the area known as Mexicantown.

What remains true across the board is that 30% of the area’s households are at or below the federal poverty line (FPL), and an additional 15.7% are in marginal poverty, depending on family size, with incomes between $15,000 and $24,999.  Additionally, both renters and owners are paying 45% of income toward housing costs – nearly half their gross income.  While the Data Driven Detroit report casts CCN as maintaining an appreciable level of household income, this is only relative to the hyperbolic poverty which exists elsewhere in Detroit:  few would regard a neighborhood with 30% of families living in poverty and another 16% living “just” out of poverty to be economically stable or robust.

CCN is also unique in that it has retained a strong population of youth:  37% of residents are under 18 years old.  At a time when young families were the most prevalent out-migrators from Detroit, Chadsey-Condon has remained strongly family oriented.  There is also a charter school, the Lighthouse Academy, within 3 blocks of the site.

The neighborhood has a fairly even split between home owners and renters, but like most of Detroit, vacancy rates have increased significantly, placing strain on community cohesion:  nearly 1 in 4 homes are vacant.  Additionally, this area has been hit by blight, arson and abandonment, with housing inventory shrinking by 14.5%.  Currently, CCN is punctuated with a 37.2% rate of empty lots, about 11% over the city-wide rate.

As with many urban areas, quality food stores are not abundant within the area.  There is a small independent grocery nearby on Michigan Ave at Junction, and the Latino influence with strong commercial corridors in Southwest do result in more food shopping opportunities than elsewhere in Detroit.  However, many of the stores are oriented toward low-income shoppers, with few, if any, organic options.  Due to the volume and price-point, the stores are typically providing B-grade produce.

In conclusion, the Chadsey-Condon neighborhood has predominantly families with children, are struggling to pay housing costs which are high in proportion to their low-income, do not have easy access to optimal nutrition, and live in a community which has been pocketed by empty lots.  One edifying action among many is to transform those lots into food producing community centers, which provide not only a food security net, but also provide activities which leverage the empty spaces as gathering points, instead of dividing gaps.

Goals

  1. To restore a historic home in the Detroit landscape. This stabilizes the neighborhood by removing blight, encouraging investment by neighbors (in a Geddes approach), providing tax revenue, and returning use value for a healthy community in Detroit.
  2. To model community organization in its own development, and become a hub for community organizers. Participating by example, the Condon House revitalizes a small slice of community, offering proof of concept, demonstration of methods, and opportunities for local engagement.
  3. To be a center of learning uncommon “green” skills. This property’s rehab models how all Detroit homes can be retrofitted with green improvements which dramatically reduce housing costs through utilities. It also demonstrates how households can become more self-reliant by capturing rainwater or recycling water in productive ways that reduce sewer demand and lower water costs in a market which has a stressed water utility.
  4. To serve as a community resource of healthy, organic, sustainable fruit and produce. Similar to the Sebastopol project (https://youtu.be/8YHLmByKpts), this site is capable of providing fresh produce for the larger neighborhood.
  5. To function as an ecology learning center for all ages. While Detroit has embraced urban gardening, permaculture tactics have not yet taken a strong hold. Using vacant land for healthy production is better than leaving it abandoned – and using permaculture to RESTORE the soil, build local ecology, mitigate soil contamination, and teach all ages of residents how to use available resources for the best result possible is even better!
  6. To provide a space which can foster self-actualization. The space provides workshops for how to eat well, how to parent in happiness, how to support women and men in their unique challenges, how to make things. Condon House helps neighbors achieve their individual potential.
  7. To provide a meaningful residential sanctuary for urban scholars who are working on Detroit’s most pressing needs in policy, development, social equity and urban vitality.
  8. To contribute to an infrastructure solution. 28th Street is plagued with drainage problems which affect other properties and the sewer demand. By integrating water harvesting tactics, Condon House will resolve water flow problems on its block, contributing an immediate solution and modeling an approach which can be used in any neighborhood.

Project Description

The Crow House is an anchor public and community space in a central, family-based neighborhood in Detroit. Once remodeled, the house will serve as a community kitchen, a workshop space, an art gallery, a maker place, an urban scholar residence, a permaculture demo site, a pocket park, and a community garden.  It is intended as a place-based umbrella organization which can provide space to a range of activities and current community interests, as driven by the community and its advisory board.

The house is a 2-story, 1,600 sf structure on a typical ~3,000 sf lot. An additional adjacent lot (also ~3,000 sf) has been acquired for the permaculture demo site and community garden. The house is stripped to the frame and needs a complete rehab, including all mechanicals. It also needs foundation correction and excavation of the rear yard in order to fix a water flow issues.

The final product will result in a 3 bedroom house with 1.75 baths, a double salon, semi-professional kitchen, dining room, half finished basement, and approximately 5,000 sf of land for the permaculture site and community garden. It is expected that in the near future, an additional adjacent lot will become available through the side lot program.  This would bring the land area to approximately 8,000 sf and allow a pocket park.

In addition, this project is being done according to “green” principles. The rehab includes a combination of foam and fill insulation, new windows and doors, for an anticipated R value of 35-40. Because all systems have been stripped, the building will convert primarily to electric, in anticipation of a grid-tie solar system installation within 3 years. The plan also includes gray water systems, rain gardens and water cisterns. This property is intended as a learning and development site for sustainable, low-tech, low-cost tactics for the Michigan climate.  The proof of concept for the permaculture element is mirrored in the Sebastopol Permaculture Neighborhood Center.  A video introducing that project is here:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8YHLmByKpts.

Resources – Allies and Funding

Condon Crow House has an exciting array of partners and stakeholders, reflecting its focus on community roots.  In its nascent stages, we continue to reach out to existing networks in the green space and in the Condon, Southwest or larger Detroit community:  these have so far included Growing Detroit, Greening Detroit, Chadsey-Condon Community, Eco-works, SDEV, the Unity Timebank, Bioneers, and others.  Through these networks, we also plan to recruit final members of the advisory board.

The group is also applying the resources available through the university community.  Having established itself as a voluntary student organization (VSO) under “Boulevard House” (the first project iteration in Hubbard Farms), there are currently 16 members who have expressed explicit interest in being involved with some aspect of the project.  We have initiated a summer internship program and solicited applications from undergraduate and graduate students in business, natural resources, architecture, urban planning, macro social work/community organizing, public health, public/social policy, art and service-learning driven student groups at three regional universities and one community college.  Additionally, members of our management team are liaising with allied student organizations, such as bee-keepers, for specific implementations.

The group has start-up funding of $5,000 through the Dow Sustainability Fellowship and $5,000 in seed funding.  There are opportunities through Dow for an additional $50,000 in project funding in September 2016.  We are using the VSO and Michigan non-profit status to apply for university and grant funding, as well as applying aggressively for case contests and related competitive funding through our networks.  The project budget is approximately $50,000 for the initial lot implementation and house rehab.

Preliminary Scope Statement, Objectives and Deliverables

The project at its baseline will include:

  1. Establishing a perpetual administrative body for the ongoing programming and management.

Deliverables:  File for MI NPO corporate status; file for federal 501(c)(3) status; develop board governance documents; recruit initial advisory board; apply for initial funding and launch crowdfunding campaign.  By June 1, 2016.

2.  Creating design plans for a permaculture lot at 3547 28th Street, Detroit.

Deliverables:  Recruit interns and volunteers; produce design schematic.  By June 1, 2016.

3.  Implementing the foundational permaculture infrastructure on the lot.

Deliverables:   Create intern program plan and schedule; physically build-out the earthworks and initiate planting.  By September 6, 2016.

4.  Establishing an apiary on the 3543 lot.

Deliverables:  Build-out bee habitat; establish 3 hives on site.  By April 15, 2016.

5.  Using the activities 1-5 as the basis for weekly service-learning workshops for community members in the areas of bee keeping, vermiculture, recycling composing, water harvesting, permaculture and ecology principles, medicinal plants, edible plants, basic subsistence agriculture tactics, and project management with leadership skill building.

Deliverables:  Create programming schedule for interns and community; deliver workshop content.  By September 6, 2016.

Items 1-5 can be achieved with existing funding and support.  The following scope will be included to the extent funding is achieved:

  1. Rehabilitation of the structure at 3837 28th Street, Detroit.

Deliverables:  Create programming and construction schedule for interns and community; hire contractors; procure materials; deliver workshop content.  By November 30, 2016.

2.  Using the rehabilitation as a basis for service-learning workshops for community members in the areas of weatherization, alternative energy tactics, basic residential wiring, basic residential plumbing, basic home repair.

Deliverables:  Create programming schedule for interns and community; deliver workshop content.  By November 30, 2016.

3.  Establishing a resident-in program for scholars and activists.

Deliverables:  Create framework and submit to UM, WSU and Detroit Mercy.  By November 30, 2016.

All resources will be managed by the Dow team in collaboration with the NPO advisory board and community partners; management will be fully transitioned to the advisory board at the end of the start-up phases.   The initial budget and any additional expenditures drawn from fellowship resources must be approved by a simple majority of the Dow team, under advisement from the advisory board; other grants and funding are controlled by the advisory board and its governance documents.  The project will conclude for the Dow team either by October 31, 2016 in order to prepare the final report, or with the completion of items 1-5 above (with sufficient funding, items 1-8 above).  The final report will be prepared by November 30, 2016 or as dictated by program timelines.

Schedule and Budget

The project Gantt chart and budget are available separately.