DETROIT (WWJ/AP) – A school on Detroit’s far east side has been selected as the pilot for a collaborative effort to revitalize the neighborhood and improve safety for students.
More than 200 vacant houses around Clark Preparatory Academy are expected to be demolished as part of the plan, which was announced outside the school Thursday by Gov. Rick Snyder, Mayor Dave Bing and Detroit Public Schools emergency manager Roy Roberts.
It will encompass a 10-block radius around Clark Academy and eventually expand to eight other schools and their surrounding neighborhoods. Work also will include rehabilitating homes, cleaning the neighborhoods and improving street lighting.
“The school must be the anchor, and in many communities the surest long-term stabilizing presence … is the local school,” Roberts said.
Parents also will be enlisted to ensure students are safe walking to and from school.
“Despite all the negative things being said about the city, we collectively can get this done,” Bing said.
The demolitions will be funded by mortgage settlement money approved last week by state lawmakers. Habitat for Humanity has included the Clark Preparatory Academy neighborhood as part of the organization’s $25 million “Leaders to Rebuild Detroit” housing construction rehabilitation project
The Lear Corp. also announced a 3-year, $1.5 million program involving 200 paid tutors who will work with Clark students.
Another group is expected to rehab six houses, remove debris from vacant lots and board up 21 empty houses in the neighborhood, while students will pitch in by planting flowers and bushes on school property and spread mulch around trees.
State Human Services workers will be placed in a family resource center in the school. The center will focus on truancy and other challenges for students and their parents, including transportation and nutrition. Help with finding jobs and rent and utilities assistance also will be offered.
“The reinvention of Detroit cannot be completed without including the neighborhoods,” Snyder said.
To critics who would question the state’s involvement, Snyder said, “Isn’t this the right thing to do? Let’s just use common sense and get something done.”
Crews began tearing down an abandoned house Thursday afternoon near Clark. Such structures are magnets for drugs, rapes and other violent crime.
There are more than 30,000 vacant houses in Detroit. Bing said Thursday that his administration is in the process of tearing down 1,500 dangerous houses by the end of September. He has vowed to demolish a total of 10,000 vacant houses over the four years of his first term as mayor, which ends in 2013.
“We’ve just touched the tip of the iceberg,” Bing said. “We can’t tear everything down. It’s about rehabilitating homes; turning the street lights on and making sure our children can walk safely to and from school.”
Listening intently during the presentation was 52-year-old Tracey Lewis. Lewis said she bought a home about a block away from Clark Academy in October. Thieves previously had stripped the home of metal pipes and wiring.
Lewis says the schools program left her with “a lot of questions.”
“My kitchen is gutted. I saw the house had potential and I was able to buy it,” she said. “I want to know how can a homeowner get some help, some work on their home.”
Qiana Lynum supports improving the neighborhood around Clark Academy – as long as improvements take place inside, too.
Her daughter was in eighth grade this past academic year. She said student computers need to be updated, and that some restrooms are better suited for children in younger grades.
“And the books should not be copywritten from 1972,” Lynum said.
Later Thursday afternoon, neighbors gathered to watch as a burned out house was demolished on Balfour, just south of Mack Ave.
Merna Wolfslayer who’s lived on the block all her life, said it’s bitter-sweet.
“I knew the dear neighbors who lived there years ago … Yes, it (the house) was beautiful. But, today, oh, praise God, it’s a good day because finally we are fixing this neighborhood up again to the way that we want it to be,” Wolfslayer said.
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