Unusual house? Indeed. New occupant to help revive blighted area

It’s one of the most unusual houses in Detroit.

Plopped in a field surrounded by 90-year-old abandoned homes on the near east side, the squatty, cinderblock house has sat vacant for nearly three years.

The soon-to-be occupant – a 21-year-old college student who wants to transform the immediate area into an urban farm.

“I want to make a homestead out of it,” said Darin McLeskey, who is working on a master’s degree in environmental science at the University of Michigan. “I really like the location. It’s walkable to the Eastern Market and the Dequindre Cut.”

Two students at Cranbook Schools in Bloomfield Hills designed and built the house for a low-income family in 2009 at the corner of Pierce and St. Aubin.

They chose a financially struggling single mother who lived in the house for about six months.

“Within a month or two of her moving out, people came in and stripped the house of most of the valuable metals,” said McLeskey, the new owner.

Then came the graffiti as ownership of the house exchanged hands numerous times.

Last week, McLeskey and a friend began cleaning out the gutted house, which is on the eastern edge of Paradise Valley, a predominately African American neighborhood that was bulldozed in the 1950s to make way for so-called urban renewal projects.

McLeskey already started cleaning up the area and plans to launch an adopt-a-lot program to keep the surrounding lots maintained.

The area is overgrown and largely vacant, with old wooden houses collapsing from decay.

“I’m really excited,” McLeskey said. “I think this area has a lot of potential.”

And so begins another effort to revive the city, one lot at a time.

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Steve Neavling

Steve Neavling lives and works in Detroit as an investigative journalist. His stories have uncovered corruption, led to arrests and reforms and prompted FBI investigations.