Written by Lisa Assenmacher, Communications & Training Specialist
When faced with population decline and disinvestment, many communities struggle to find the key dynamics that will help them revitalize. Safe and affordable housing is really only one, albeit important, piece of the process.
Nonprofits and municipalities across Michigan realize that in order to solve the issues within their communities and support the needs of their residents, a bigger, more comprehensive strategy must be executed. Made up through partnerships, complex funding sources and foresight, it can be a struggle to successfully drive a vision into fruition.
Thinking Outside of the Box
In January, the National Community Development Association awarded the City of Westland the Audrey Nelson Community Development Achievement Award for the Jefferson Barns Community Vitality Center project in the Norwayne community. The challenges faced in this community are not dissimilar to others in Michigan, nor is the fact that they repurposed a vacant building.
However, Joanne Campbell, Community Development Director, and Mayor William R. Wild of the City of Westland maximized the benefits of their loan from the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). Using insight, experimentation, partnerships and knowledge gained from memberships with organizations like MCDA, the team envisioned a space that could enable multiple functions to exist under one roof.
Housing Supported By Community
The City of Westland began efforts to stabilize the neighborhoods through rehab, community garden development and infrastructure repair several years ago. However, people need more than just a place to live; they also need places to thrive where there are opportunities for people to connect for entertainment, exercise, education, job skill development and more.
Jefferson Barns accomplishes all of this. Wayne Metro Community Action Agency and the Housing & Community Development Department have offices in the building. People can access financial literacy classes, a library and community space for both public and private use. A Learning Lab offers classes in code and homework assistance. After-school activities are available for kids, and an athletic complex with two baseball diamonds, a basketball court, a play structure for handicap children and a pavilion will be constructed this year.
Most importantly, this space has filled a gap that residents needed to feel a connection to a place where they are living and provided tools that can help empower them to build a good life. Moreover, people are deciding to stay put rather than leave the neighborhood – a huge success.
Working Together For a Better Future
Identifying the individual strengths, assets, challenges and needs of each community and using that information to devise a strategy to bring the community together is the ultimate path toward revitalization. This approach provides a landscape to foster successful and empowered residents who feel a sense of place and connection to their home rather than simply seeing it as a temporary place to live.
The City of Westland has hit the ground running and is witnessing the benefits unfold.
Additional reading about the project: