A Michigan pastor is reviving a neighborhood one house at a time.
Arric Wilkerson, pastor of Up From The World Ministries, started renovating houses in his Detroit neighborhood a decade ago after noticing the blight surrounding his church.
“We were driving through this community on a daily basis, we saw these homes that were abandoned and some of them were empty and some of them had squatters in them,” Wilkerson told The Detroit News. “We started renovating them one at a time.”
Wilkerson’s church bought 25 homes and 15 vacant lots, some of them for $500 and $100, respectively. The houses were boarded up, gutted and missing appliances but the pastor saw their potential.
“When you look at a house like that, you go in the basement and look at the foundation,” he said. “If the foundation is good, then you can restore the house.”
Each finished property sports a placard with the tagline “Bringing the Neighbor Back to the Hood.”
While the houses were being finished, Wilkerson sought tenants from his congregation and gave them an offer they couldn’t afford to refuse: $500 per month rent. He also hired some of his parishioners for carpentry, painting and other home improvement jobs.
“The rental payment is only $500 per month and our members are afforded an opportunity to live in a fully renovated home at a minimum cost, which is a great thing for their overall household finances,” he told Rolling Out in 2017. They also get the benefit of knowing all of their neighbors, which creates a wonderful living environment, free of gang-banging and drug dealing.”
Wilkerson doesn’t plan to raise the rent at all, and he doesn’t accept incentives from the government.
“Instead of taking the money to the bank every Monday morning, we would bring it to the block,” he said. “It really wasn’t about making money. It was about restoring this community.”
The residents, new and old, are happy with the development of their growing neighborhood.
“I love it because everything is family oriented,” Daija Harris told The Detroit News. Harris moved into one of the homes with her husband and four kids in October 2019. Her mother has lived in another house on the street for five years.
“We love it,” Harris added. “We’ve got so much space. Everything is just perfect, to be honest. It’s more than you could ask for.”
“It has turned around 100 percent,” longtime resident Barbara Newkirk told WXYZ last year. Newkirk who has lived on the street for over 50 years. “I knew I wasn’t going to move, so he brought it back better than it was before.”
City officials also lauded Wilkerson and UFTWM for their work.
“The fact that he keeps that rent at 500, this is not about making money,” said Rod Liggons, an official at the Detroit Land Bank Authority (DLBA). “It’s about making progress in the neighborhood where he worships and where he leads his congregation.”
“It’s transformed the neighborhood,” said Karla Marshall, who manages the department economic development and community partners at DLBA. “This is a very large footprint. This is how we get the neighborhoods transformed.”
The church is down to its last three houses and Wilkerson hopes to erect a park nearby.
“When we drive through, we’re not looking at that blight like we were before, so all the drugs are gone, all of the activity that comes with distributing drugs, all that’s gone from these two blocks,” he said. “It turned out to be a worthwhile venture.”