INTRO: Do-it-yourself is what people do in Detroit. It could date back to Henry Ford or even the fur trappers. There’s a new crop of these people coming in, mainly in their twenties, mainly white. Michigan Now’s Chris McCarus found a couple in the North End. They started with a house in last September’s Wayne County Tax Auction.
You go east of Woodward and north of East Grand Boulevard and you get to the North End. Large brick homes and apartments. A few with new paint and roofing. Many are abandoned and city officials want to tear them down. That’s the kind Maina Petry and Greg Crawford bought on Bethune Street.
“It was $3,900. Don’t know how many rooms are in this house yet. We’re suspecting 8 or 9. Could be 10.”
Maina is from Brazil. Greg is from Olympia Washington. They met in Thailand where they studied permaculture. See more about it here. It’s something like self-sufficiency, care for the earth, care for people and lots of other concepts mixed in. These folks don’t have a car, a flush toilet, refrigerator, stove or heat. They don’t want them either.
“We are neighbor to a farm, an organic farm, where we met the people just walking around even before seeing the house. It felt right,” says Maina.
The house was empty of people and full of stuff. Might call it junk. Pizza boxes, juice cans, premium saltine crackers, styrofoam cups, empty gallon jugs, old mattresses, chairs, shoes.
“So when we start it’s literally standing on a pile of stuff,” says Greg.
He and Maina sifted through every artifact. They looked for history in everything.
Walking upstairs or into any room is a tough slog. No space to walk plus other deterrents like cobwebs in a lot of places, a toilet which has so much material inside it looks like a giant semi-new feces.
Though they’ve had to take some things apart and throw them away, they want to honor the lady who lived here until she died at age 90. They turned this piano on its side. It serves as a shelf in the kitchen.
“Probably a little more than half of the tv’s we found are garbage but some are gorgeous old antique tv’s.”
Greg and Maina did the first part of this interview a year ago. By this summer, they drew dozens of other new people in to study their project. Their solar electric system cost $3,000. A Belgian friend named Brecht came for a month to install it. They all met in Thailand. Brecht is an engineer.
“Got lucky and found this television. We went through this house and it’s like a mine of every thing you need. You’ll find anything. So we looked at something creative to house all the electrical components. Then we found the old television and we emptied it. Somehow everything worked so beautifully. We bought this amp meter on Amazon and this television has an original hole for whatever was in there and the amp meter fit it perfectly. This is meant to be.”
Brecht doesn’t charge friends much. He’s happy helping people avoid having to pay money to big corporations for power sources that pollute. Brecht held a solar installation workshop before he left and Greg wants to hold a workshop for anybody who wants to avoid using a regular furnace to stay warm.
“My tentative plan at the moment is to build a rocket mass heater that is tied into the existing fireplace chimney. It’s a slab/day bed of earthen mass.”
They’ve got another month to build that system. In the meantime they can say they’ve built community in the north end. Neighbors were thrilled to see lights on in at the house.
“People in Detroit know through and through that they can’t trust any organized much of nothing. It’s all on people’s shoulders to do stuff for themselves.”
Maina and Greg’s neighbors can now hear music… from an old console stereo cabinet wired to a computer. It plays the sounds of Brazil.
If you want a house like this from the Wayne County Tax Auction, the deadline to register is September 10.
Maybe the world does need Detroit.