Empty houses? Needy families? Time to mix

by | Oct 23, 2011 | Detroit Free Press | 0 comments

There are certain sounds that are pure childhood joy. One is the clomping of little feet up the stairs. Another is the squeal of delight.

This past week, in a freshly renovated house in Detroit, those two sounds came together. Seven children. Running up the stairs. Running into bedrooms.

Cue the squeals.

“I call this one!” … “This one!” … “I got the top one!” They were laying claim to something every child ought to have – a bed – but they were giddy because they had been sleeping three to a mattress in a dingy house infested with mold.

Now this?

“I got top bed!” … “I got bottom bed!”

Their mother, Kristy Wilson, followed in behind them. Her eyes were wider than a moving truck, and she kept turning left and right, putting her hand on her heart or her cheek.

“Whose room is this?” she asked, entering a bedroom with a queen-size mattress on a new frame.

“Yours and your husband’s,” she was told.

She fell to her knees, laid her head on the bed and began to cry.

A few weeks ago, in this space, we learned about Kristy and her husband, Amando, poor working parents who simply couldn’t make ends meet – at least not enough to escape a bad-deal rented Detroit house where the landlord never bothered to fix the mold, sewage or other issues.

At the time, there seemed no way out. But then something happened.

A house was in need of repair.

A family was in need of a home.

One plus one equals…

Matching families and houses

“I have never had a washer or dryer before,” Kristy said. She was standing in the basement of this tidy home, looking at the laundry area, astonished that other people would do this for her.

But they did and they do. Michigan is full of people like that. Dozens of them came down and volunteered their time, their hammers, their nail guns, their ladders, their painting, their carpeting skills, their electrical expertise. They donated furniture, windows, basic necessities.

And because of that, through a new program I’m co-launching with the Detroit Rescue Mission Ministries called Working Homes/Working Families, the Wilsons now have a place to live, not a place to survive.

“Mama! Sit on the couch!” the kids yelled.

The idea is simple: There are too many empty or abandoned houses in Detroit. And there are too many families – working families – forced to live in shelters or inadequate housing with crazy rates. The mold pit that was the Wilsons’ previous address charged $650 a month. It’s astounding in a city where you can buy a house for $7,000 that landlords can regularly be exacting rents like that.

But they do. And it keeps a cycle of poverty intact, while blocking Detroit neighborhoods from any kind of renaissance.

It needn’t be that way. If you have or know of a house that is empty, or the owner is looking to donate for a loss or a deduction, Working Homes/Working Families could be an answer.

One plus one equals…

The best kind of noises

“My husband and I were sleeping in the attic,” Kristy said. “We didn’t have luxuries. At the end of the month, it was a choice between feeding all the kids or paying the rent.”

Under the Working Homes/Working Families program, the family must pay only the utilities and the taxes. But they must also keep working – this is not a handout – and the house must be maintained at the same level it was given. If these requirements are met for a certain number of years, then the family may be given ownership.

In the meantime, the pairing of families trying to make it with houses trying to stay upright seems a logical match. It’s lemons to lemonade, right?

The Wilsons have slept in homeless shelters, in a space above a church and in dilapidated housing. For the last few days, they have slept in a home. It is not fancy by suburban standards. But it is clean, it is mold-free, and it is full of children making the kind of noise they should make – squeals, foot thumps, bed bounces.

“This is a miracle,” Kristy said.

Not really. Just people helping other people. Thank you to those who made this possible, and those who will do more. You can learn about it at www.workinghomesworkingfamilies.org.

A house in need of attention.

A family in need of a home.

One plus one equals…

A community.

Contact Mitch Albom: 313-223-4581 or malbom@freepress.com. Catch “The Mitch Albom Show” 5-7 p.m. weekdays on WJR-AM (760).


Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

New book, The Little Liar, arrives November 14. Get the details »

Mitch Albom writes about running an orphanage in impoverished Port-au-Prince, Haiti, his kids, their hardships, laughs and challenges, and the life lessons he’s learned there every day.

Subscribe for bonus content and giveaways!