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A childhood home, found through the Land Bank, gets a second life

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The house was vacant for 15 years

Photos by Robin Runyan

Many Detroit renovators keep a close eye on the Land Bank to find that special house to transform into something great. But rarely does a home have such sentimental value as the two-bedroom house on Kentucky Street discovered by Kameka and Ty Grady this summer.

The Gradys moved to Detroit last year to renovate houses and, in turn, help build up the city’s neighborhoods. They mainly found houses on auction sites, but didn’t browse the Detroit Land Bank site until taking the Better Buildings, Better Blocks class last summer. While casually browsing the site for houses, Kameka says, “My heart dropped.”

Her childhood home was up for sale.

She and her family lived in the home until she was 12, when they moved out of state. The couple—who usually buys three-bedroom, one-bath brick homes—bought the house for $2,700. After acquiring the house this fall and talking to neighbors, the Gradys determined it had been vacant for about 15 years.

One unusual sign helped them figure out the length of its vacancy: A tree in the back had grown through a window covering that had been placed over it. The tree stands tall now—a testament to the home’s resilience.

Kameka pointed out some differences in the house as we walked through. A previous owner must have been an electrician and/or crafty, as the ceiling in the living room is now opened up and benches bookend the small porch. While the house is technically two bedrooms, the previous owner renovated the attic to become a potential third. But the steps to get up there are so steep that Kameka might just close off the upstairs again, like when she was younger and not allowed in the attic.

Kameka noticed how much smaller the bedroom she and her sister shared growing up felt to her now. Areas near the kitchen had been reconfigured since she lived there.

The room Kameka and her sister once shared.
The ceiling was opened up by a previous owner.

The couple just started renovating the house: They had to install a new subfloor, repair the roof, and replace many windows. They’ve also replaced the plumbing and electrical, plus the furnace and hot water heater. They expect to finish in March, and will work on exterior repairs when the weather permits.

Kameka says the neighbors are happy that the home is being fixed up, and that things were pretty rough in the area for a while, but look to be getting better. She was surprised that so many families she knew 30 years ago still live on the block; if not the same people, the same families occupy many of the homes. She remembers first visiting the home this summer and seeing the now 98-year-old neighbor who still lives across the street.

Soon, the 100-year-old home where Kameka spent her childhood will be ready for a new family in the neighborhood.