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The Upside of Foreclosures
The Upside of Foreclosures The Power House in Detroit (Design 99)
Artist Mitch Cope has big plans for the foreclosed houses in his neighborhood. You know that old adage: when life gives you lemons, make lemonade? Well what about when life gives you thousands of foreclosed houses? Michigan Radio's Jennifer Guerra met up with an artist in Detroit who may have an answer.

Mitch Cope lives on Detroit's north side, right on the border of Detroit and Hamtramck. It's a pretty mixed neighborhood: lots of old Polish and Ukrainian families. Some recent Bangladeshi immigrants. Not to mention a fair amount of drug dealers.

"People who have been in the neighborhood for a long time talk about how great the neighborhood used to be, how you didn't have to lock your doors," explains Cope. And it's like "what are you doing now? Ok, so it's gotten worse, yeah I can see that. But now what? Let's do something. Let's have fun."

So Cope and his wife, Gina, started with the raggedy old wood fence across the street from their house. The two artists were sick of looking at the - so they painted it bubblegum pink. Even got some of the neighbors to help.

Then they set their sights on the foreclosed house down the street.

"It's a typical house for the neighborhood," says Cope, "sort of a working class, wood frame, single family house."

The house popped up on a real estate website for $1,900. So they snatched it up. Granted the place is not what you'd call move in ready. Scrappers stole everything: the copper plumbing, heating, electric lines:

"So our idea," says Cope, "instead of putting it all back and connecting to the grid, we wanted to keep it off the grid and get enough solar and wind turbines and batteries to power this house and power the next door house."

It'll be a totally off the grid house in the middle of the city. Cope calls it the Power House. He's budgeted about $60,000 for the whole project.

Now, the plan is to have enough renewable energy to charge not only the Power House but the house next door, too.

Cope doesn't want to leave his neighbors out, so he plans to turn the Power House into a neighborhood art center with a community garden out front for the kids to dig in. And he plans to turn the second floor into a bedroom for visiting artists.

See, Cope thinks that if he can just get artists to visit the neighborhood, they'll want to stay. And with all the cheap real estate around, it'll be that much easier.

"To me," says Cope, "it's an easy way to welcome people back into the city. That maybe even were a little hesitant before. Make the whole process of moving back into the city fun."

Cope's already made some progress on his plans. He bought the vacant house next door to the Power House for $500 and sold it to some artist friends for $550. He helped some Dutch art students find a place a couple blocks away. He's even helped some of his Bangladeshi neighbors look for cheap houses in the neighborhood.

When a house around the block from Cope went on sale for $100, he got on the phone and called his friends, Sarah Wagner and Jon Brumit.

They live in an apartment in Chicago and pay almost $2,000 a month on rent. Now granted, the place they bought needs a lot of work. But to get to buy an entire house for $100 and the chance to help out with Power House? Well, that was enough for Brumit to pack up their bags and move to Detroit:

"Coming into a place and trying to re-engineer some things in whatever way, I guess I just see that as a great way to engage people," says Brumit. They might as, "hey, what's that? It's a wind turbine. It generates enough power to power four refrigerators."

"I've always liked art that educates," adds Cope. "And this house is a large scale version of art that educates. Whether it's how to socialize with your neighbors, how to use renewables, or how to renovate an old house in Detroit."

Or how to stay and make the most of a city that so many people have given up on.

You can find more information on the Power House Project here.