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In Woodbridge, vacant townhouses come back to life

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LaFerte Terrace lives on

Photos courtesy of Jon Zemke

A stretch of West Warren Avenue is showing signs of life and soon, occupancy, as a row of townhouses and a duplex finish up renovation. We stopped to talk with owner Jon Zemke about the properties and the work it takes to renovate homes in Detroit.

The properties—the townhouses and duplex—were bought through the tax auction and private sales. Zemke and his wife Kristin Lukowski also own the surrounding land. One notable feature is the TARDIS shared library, which was started by Zemke’s brother Dan.

Google Street View

They started increasing construction around December 2017, when the first mortgage came through. They depended on loans, savings, credit cards, and some potential funding in the works to take on the repairs.

An older photo of the building that Zemke found

The duplex, built in 1910, hadn’t been legitimately lived in for at least 10-15 years. Squatters were in the duplex, and Zemke paid them to leave. In the renovation, Zemke and his crew had to fix many of the short-term solutions—electrical and whatnot—that just weren’t safe anymore. In a property like this, Zemke says, you can count on having decades of neglect. The roof had multiple layers that had to be taken out and replaced. Knob and tube wiring was still in much of the property.

They kept the doors, bricks, structure, and floors, but had to replace HVAC, plumbing, electrical, roof, windows, and appliances. Unsafe porches had to be rebuilt. Both properties were complete gut jobs.

The duplex before and during renovation

The units in the duplex are each two bedroom and one bath. Inside, you’ll find refinished floors, refinished doors—including some doors from other properties in the neighborhood (as Zemke said, now they can stay in the neighborhood for another hundred years), some original fixtures, along with new appliances, cupboards, countertops, and beveled subway tile in the bathrooms.

Listing photos by Dave Lewinski

The first unit, the upstairs flat, came online to rent earlier this week, and a tenant signed a lease right away. The lower unit should come online in December.

Photo by Dave Lewinski

Two units are occupied in the townhouses—one by Zemke’s brother, and another with a tenant who intends on staying. The townhouses have three bedrooms and one bath, and two will be deemed affordable while the others will rent for market-rate. The townhouses should be finished next summer.

“Woodbridge has always been known for high-quality housing that is accessible to everyone. We are working to carry on that tradition by providing affordable housing next door to market-rate options,” says Zemke, who has rehabbed about a dozen properties in and around Woodbridge. “We want Detroiters who have been here through thick and thin to feel like they have an affordable, welcoming option to stay in Woodbridge, and we want people who are new to the city to enjoy a warm welcome to the eclectic community the neighborhood has been building for decades.”

More properties are in the pipeline for Zemke after LaFerte Terrace finishes, most in Woodbridge. He takes great pride in lights coming back on, employing neighbors, and restoring historic elements of buildings. These might not be the biggest renovations happening in the city, but it’s projects like these that keep improving neighborhoods one property at a time.