Finally, we’ll get to see Black people restore a house in Detroit

My father’s side of the family could probably build a house from scratch if they could. Almost everyone has experience in carpentry, roofing, plumbing, electrical (and you have to be certified, as my uncle and grandfather would remind), and other contract work.

So when I saw that “This Old House” was coming to Detroit, I lit up. I watch a lot of HGTV and DIY Network shows. I know that some of the tricks they pull on some of those home-renovation shows aren’t as easy as they look. But “This Old House,” a PBS mainstay, gets it right.

Yes, “This Old House” is coming to Detroit, per an announcement on the show’s Facebook page and a report in Crain’s Detroit Business. But that’s not all: They’re going deep in Detroit. Eschewing, say, a faded mansion within spitting distance of a ball park, the “Old House” crew will be headed to Detroit’s Russell Woods neighborhood on the west side to help a family who purchased a home through the Detroit Land Bank auction.

I can already see the wide grins of Mayor Duggan and his staff at the potential of hearing DETROIT LAND BANK said a bunch of times over a 10-episode season. (Every press conference from here on out will have this plug.) It’s certainly a win for the Detroit Land Bank Authority as it, in tandem with other initiatives in the city, seeks to attract new residents and stabilize neighborhoods for existing ones.

But more importantly, for me at least, how cool would it be to finally see a Black family restore a home in Detroit?


I come from Russell Woods. My address was two blocks away from 4055 Fullerton, the home that’ll be in “This Old House.” I wrote a few weeks ago for Curbed Detroit about how Russell Woods, and other neighborhoods like it, aren’t on the radar of house hunters in the city. It’s a good neighborhood with good stock and good neighbors, but because – ahem – newer residents of the city never venture too far outside the 7.2-square-mile comfort zone of Downtown, Midtown and Corktown, neighborhoods like the ones I grew up in are dismissed as scary. Sketchy. Unsafe.

(All of those are code for “too Black,” by the way. It’s impossible for many to think that a neighborhood full of Black folks can survive the worst of what Detroit was given in the last decade.)

That “This Old House” is showing a Black family moving into a home (with a pink-tiled bathroom that 99% of all Detroit homes have except the ones we see depicted all the time) and wants to restore it is significant, and a tardy milestone in what we usually see in media about Detroit. Think of who gets the most attention for moving into Detroit, and it’s usually those who are young and white. (And here’s the necessary disclaimer, as always: It’s fine if you’re young and white and moving to Detroit. Nobody’s saying you can’t move here.) But you rarely see anybody older than 35, and you never see anyone with a bit of melanin.

And most of the spotlight given to home renovation projects in Detroit, whether it’s buying a $500 home at auction, a home-renovation memoir, or a TV series documenting a home renovation, are given to white folks.  Do Black folks restore houses, too? Yes, and now we’ll finally see them.

Here's what the "This Old House" crew will have to work with. You can watch the finished product when the new season airs next March.

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