Breaking The Law to Mend The Neighborhood
Danto Furniture has been part of Southwest Detroit for 72 years. In that time, the area around the store has gone from a crowded, bustling neighborhood to an area that’s barely winning the fight against blight. There are dozens of abandoned houses. “In southwest Detroit we don’t have a single block that doesn’t have one to six homes in this condition in this area,” according to store owner Irwin Danto.
Danto has dozens of pictures of homes that are abandoned, burned out and dangerous. He drove past them every day as he came to work, “In 2011 business was great, we thought it was so disturbing just driving into the community that we thought we’re going to start boarding up these houses.”
Danto took Detroit 2020′s Stephen Clark on a walking tour of the area where the project began — just a couple of blocks from his store. He showed Stephen the first house he boarded up and told him, “We had been fed up for years. We looked at this house and said this is next to our property and we have to do something so we boarded up this house.” And then another house on the same block. And then another.
Danto tried several times to buy a four unit apartment building. But the city wasn’t able to find the owner. So, instead he boarded it up. He says, “We closed it up several times, it has been burned three times. Most of the building is gone. It’s severely damaged.”
Now keep in mind, Danto doesn’t own these properties so he’s risking trouble with authorities by boarding these structures. But he says he will continue to use his money to buy materials and use his work crews when they have a little down time.
So far he has boarded up more than 60 houses. Among the first were houses near neighborhood schools. “It just bothered us that you could just walk out of a school and right there would be an empty hulk of a building waiting for a school kid to be grabbed or who know what to happen.”
One abandoned house sat right next to a new playground at Harms Elementary School. There were occasional squatters inside. Principal Karen White was afraid, “Some of the kids after school would play on the playground , get a little bored and come to this open, abandoned house and play in the building.”
So Danto took matters into his own hands. He had the house boarded up and proudly added a sign with his company name.
According to Principal White, “While he was there he looked across the street, saw three more houses and also boarded up those houses. I feel secure that the children are now safe and happy. That I don’t have to worry any longer about something happening to them.”
As more signs began to appear in the neighborhood, more neighbors began to call pleading with Danto to come to their block because they were afraid of arson. Danto says, “We have literally a half dozen situations like that where we went out that day to board up the house because the people were so afraid.”
When you factor in materials, labor and the cost of things like running a generator, Danto says it takes about $500 to board up each building.
As much as people want this, we had to ask Danto about the fact that what he’s doing is technically illegal. His answer: “Clearly we’re trespassing, vandalizing people’s property and putting these boards up. On the other hand, we’re also preventing future crime and minimizing some of the safety issues.”
We contacted the Detroit Police Department and the city Code Enforcement office to get their reaction to what Danto is doing. We never heard back.
Click here to read more about Danto Furniture.
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