|George Bezenar, a longtime resident of Detroit's Brightmoor neighborhood, talks with Joan Wood, one of the few neighbors near his home on Blackstone. / SUSAN TUSA/Detroit Free Press|
Then came the crack cocaine epidemic, crime and suburban flight, and soon Bezenar, 62, found himself in one of only three occupied houses on his block, surrounded by charred remains, empty fields and homes stripped to the floorboards.
On Friday, as part of a community-led house-swapping project, Bezenar was given keys and a deed to a house 1 mile away, still in Brightmoor, but less burdened by blight.
The project is likely the first of its kind in Detroit, brokered by community groups in response to city plans to realign services and investment in neighborhoods.
The community groups, led by John O'Brien of the Brightmoor Neighborhood Development Corp., intend to move more people as they identify available properties and match them to Brightmoor residents. Bezenar -- who had been robbed multiple times -- decided to stop fixing up his house after his gutters were stolen for scrap metal two years ago.
"It couldn't have come at a better time. I'm very excited," Bezenar said.
The house-swapping project came about when Mayor Dave Bing announced about two years ago plans to move Detroiters out of sparsely populated areas riddled with blight into denser areas of the city. To O'Brien and other community leaders in Detroit, the plan seemed geared to neighborhoods like Brightmoor. But they were concerned about disbanding an established neighborhood, however sparse, and moving people places where they didn't want to go, and perhaps, weren't wanted by their new neighbors.
Along with Brightmoor Alliance and Baber Memorial AME Church, among others, O'Brien came up with a plan -- buy devalued, but reparable, housing stock in well-maintained parts of Brightmoor and give it to people in exchange for their old houses in the desolate parts of the neighborhood.
"We're not trying to force people's hands," O'Brien said, but "let Brightmoor move Brightmoor."
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