DETROIT — Maxine Anderson has lived in her family’s house on Detroit’s west side since 1967, the same year the infamous riots changed the city forever. But it wasn’t riots or the city’s rough reputation that once threatened her life — it was her home.
One night in 2018, a loud crash gave Anderson a shock. She dashed from her bedroom to her dining room to discover the ceiling collapsed due to water damage caused by a leaky roof.
“I had just went in the back and went to lay down, then all of a sudden, BAM!” Anderson said.
The damage wasn’t limited to her dining room. Ceilings on the second floor of the 3,294 square-foot home also sustained damage. No one was hurt, but she knew something had to be done before anything worse happened.
Fast forward to a hot summer day last August, when a crew from Priest Construction, of Rochester Hills, was busy repairing the troublesome roof at no cost to Anderson. Amidst the scraping sounds of worn-out shingles being removed, Anderson laughed with glee.
“I’m telling you, I’m so amazed, I’m just thankful to God that He blessed me,” she said.
Her new roof is courtesy of Life Remodeled, a nonprofit organization dedicated to restoring and renovating Detroit’s older neighborhoods that has thrived thanks to businesses like roofing contractors and volunteers.
Anderson is just one of the many lives that Life Remodeled has touched since its founding in 2011. Chris Lambert, Life Remodeled founder and CEO, has mobilized thousands of volunteers, businesses and organizations to establish a resource center for residents, address blight and provide home repairs. Since 2014, more than 188 homes have been repaired and 1,589 blocks have been beautified.
Lambert said of the three home repair options Life Remodeled offers to homeowners — a new roof, new windows or a new furnace —roofs are by far the most in demand. He said some of the jobs have cost as much as $25,000.
“The only way we can do any of those repairs is by the support of roofing companies and others,” Lambert said.
“For these companies to come out, especially during this time of the economy when construction is absolutely booming and they’re turning away jobs because they’re so busy — yet, they come here and give their labor and time? It’s game changing for the homeowners.”
The neighborhoods Life Remodeled is investing in weren’t randomly chosen. This year marks the 52nd anniversary of the 1967 Detroit riots, and the neighborhoods Life Remodeled has committed to are where the civil unrest began. In a poll conducted by the Detroit Free Press following the riots, “poor housing” was listed as the second-most important issue that contributed to the riots.
“That was obviously a horrific experience in Detroit’s history that had many ripple effects, and some of those effects continue on to this day,” Lambert said. “What we’re focused on is creating opportunity for people who have not been given equitable opportunity for so many years.”
From Aug. 5-10, more than 9,300 volunteers joined local residents in cleaning up overgrowth, debris and blight in alleyways located within a four-square mile area. Among the volunteers was Joe Priest, owner of Priest Construction, and his employees. He and his company have provided their services to Life Remodeled since 2011.
Priest understands the plight of the many residents Life Remodeled assists. Growing up, he and his family faced difficult financial times after his father suffered an injury that left him quadriplegic. To support his family, Priest helped his grandfather with projects, including shingling the family’s cottage.
Priest decided to go professional when, 27 years ago, he and his family bought a home. While working on his roof, neighbors took notice of his handiwork and asked if he could fix up their homes. Nowadays, he is enjoying life working outdoors with his own company.
He admitted that, initially, he was hesitant about doing charitable work. However, after taking a trip to West Virginia to help a church with contracting work, he realized the impact of helping others.
“I said, ‘I’m a lot wealthier today, and I haven’t deposited a single check in the past 10 days,’” Priest said.
Priest has since volunteered with nonprofits like Life Remodeled or Faith Works Michigan to provide roof repairs. When asked why he believes roofing contractors should consider volunteering, Priest said his life and the lives of his employees are just as affected as the people that they help.
“When they see and meet that homeowner, you see a bunch of roofers…putting their sunglasses on because they don’t want people seeing them crying,” Priest said. “I tell (my crew), ‘You don’t know where this is going to go for that family or whatever, but you just changed their life.’”
Dom Morelli, a Detroit-based roofing specialist, has worked with Life Remodeled since its inception. He has 40 years of experience in the roofing industry, and has been integral in helping connect contractors like Priest to nonprofit organizations.
“The moment I started helping other people through our industry, I realized this is what our purpose is in life,” Morelli said. “Having a trade like roofing is so important because so many people have roofs that leak and they don’t know what to do and who to call, so naturally a lot of people pay us to do the work we do. There’s nothing wrong with that, but if we can reach out and help people that are truly in need with the trade we have, their lives are changed and our lives are changed by helping them.”
Building Up the Community
In its holistic approach to creating opportunities for Detroit residents, Life Remodeled has transformed the Durfee Elementary-Middle School into the Durfee Innovation Society. What was once one of Michigan’s oldest middle schools is now a mixed-use building providing educational opportunities and resources to community members of all ages.
Former classrooms are now home to tenants like nonprofit literacy and entrepreneurship programs, a lawn academy, electrical companies, web developers and even a pizzeria. Each has committed to training or hiring members of the community.
To help protect these important resources, Schena Roofing & Sheet Metal, of nearby Chesterfield Township, stepped in to overhaul the building’s roof with Life Remodeled. This included repairing flat membrane areas, seams and gutter flashing as well as installing counter flashing. CEO Anthony Schena said with so much focus being on downtown Detroit’s resurgence, it’s vital that the surrounding communities are supported as well.
“There’s a lot of wonderful people who have had roots in that city for decades and we need those areas to come back as well as the downtown area,” Schena said. “That’s why it’s important for all of us to get involved because, as busy as we all are, we need to remember to give back all of those blessings we’ve received so we can help other people thrive.”
Coming full circle, the Durfee Innovation Society might give back to the roofing industry. Denise Lyles, Durfee Innovation Society Director, indicated the center is open to the idea of bringing in a roofing apprenticeship program as another opportunity for residents to explore.
“Not only would it help with adults, but with youth — they would have another avenue to create income and a lifestyle for themselves,” Lyles said.
For more information about Life Remodeled, call 313-744-3052 or visit www.liferemodeled.com. Contributions made to Life Remodeled are tax deductible.