The house was dark, cold, and damp, as the volunteer team of teenagers started to fill up black bags with trash strewn throughout the house in 2016. Smashed windows and piles of leaves, used needles and children's toys, old mattresses, broken furniture, an electric organ. A mass of computer components a foot deep filled one of the bedrooms. The bathroom was destroyed, tiles covered the floor, the paint was peeling, the wood rotted. The basement was caving in.
Built in 1906, 1247 4th Street was once home to a family of four: Jacob and John, both barbers, Jennie, a clerk, and Mattie. The family called this house home for 20 years until it was passed on in 1926 to a new family, the Valk’s. John Valk moved in and was followed by a Janna Valk. We know very little about this family, except that in 1951 the house was passed onto Otto Valk, a salesman at Square Clothing. We don't know if Otto was the son of John and Janna Valk, or possibly a nephew or cousin. Otto Valk called this house home for 25 years. In 1975 Otto Valk left, marking the beginning of the home’s journey of neglect.
Between 1975 and 1980 the house sat empty, home to no one. From 1980 on, at least 7 different known residents lived in the home, none staying for more than 5 years. There were sporadic periods of vacancy until the house was finally put up for auction in 2015, failing three times. And so stood this house, old, blighted, an eyesore in the community, condemned to decay.
But that's not the whole story.
As Community enCompass Rehab Specialist, Kimi George, says, “When we look at a house like this we see history, we see story, we see family, we see value and hope. We see good bones.” A house like this makes no sense to any real estate investor. It’s not a house you can flip for profit. The current real estate values in Muskegon's core city neighborhoods don’t make a house like this profitable in any way. It took close to $60,000 in materials and necessary contracted work to bring this house back to life, and that's not accounting for the countless hours of volunteer work that have been put in: From the teenage volunteer crew who initially cleaned the house out, to the group of 5 young men learning construction skills through MI Works who gutted and rebuilt the majority of the internal walls; From the weekly volunteer group of retirees who lent their skills and time to advise and work on much of the finish carpentry, to the young YEP summer interns who developed new skills and gained invaluable on-the-job training. This house became a classroom, an investment into Muskegon's future--its youth! With the sale of this house, it becomes a home again, and the proceeds of the sale will be invested into the next derelict home turned classroom.
Kimi explains, “We see people the way we see old houses: sometimes we look on the outside and we think there is no value or worth. But we have discovered just like the house as we begin to peel back the exterior and we find life, we find gifts and promise and future, and we see hope!”
So what now? The keys to the home now belong to Erica Grant, a first-time home buyer. Erica found out about Community enCompass’ rehab program, inquired, and fell in love with 1247 Fourth Street, committing to buy it shortly after seeing it at the beginning of its rehab. Erica is ready to “pour herself into the house.” She says that the house is “beautiful, has character” and is a “blank canvas” for her artistic touch. “I’m really a homebody, you know, like I love to just stay home and knit.” She looks forward to moving in and settling into her new life. Muskegon is her home. Erica is a Muskegonite, born and raised, and a manager at a local store. She loves the beaches, rivers, woods, and the downtown. “I feel like I’m coming home to settle, after traveling and living across America.”
Neighbors like Erica will encourage neighbors to invest in their own homes, their own street and neighborhood, to rebuild community. And we can help with that too through sharing resources and contacts, skills and volunteers to walk alongside neighbors as they reinvest in their homes and our neighborhoods, to invest in their community. This house, like the others before it, is not just a REHAB. This rehab is a symbol of a new start: a new neighbor and family, new energy and life….for all who touched it, this house is REDEMPTION.
The 4th Street rehab is having an OPEN HOUSE! Join us in celebrating the redemption of our 5th core-city Muskegon home.
Written by Karen Eichelberger and Pat Thompson.