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Iconic Michigan Bell Building Rededicated As Center For Homeless

DETROIT (WWJ) - What was once an abandoned building contributing to urban blight is now part of a resurging neighborhood on Detroit's west side.

The historic Michigan Bell Building, on Oakman near the Lodge, has been re-dedicated as center that will house 155 formerly homeless people.

The renovations include furnished one-bedroom apartments, a conference center, a roof garden, a fitness center, a community health clinic and support services.

Bell Building (10)
Mayor Dave Bing cuts the ribbon at the Bell building. (credit: Ron Dewey/WWJ)

It's a catalyst, says Mayor Dave Bing, to turn "the hood" into a neighborhood.

"There are good things happening in Detroit," Bing said to a round of applause at the ribbon cutting Wednesday.

Built in 1929, the iconic 255,000 square-foot building was acquired by the Neighborhood Services Organization (NSO) in February, 2011.

It took six years and a complex combination of public and private funding to make this $52 million project a reality.

"If someone ever tells you that Detroit cannot come together, pool resources for a common cause, you can use the Bell building, as well as many other initiatives to prove them wrong," said NSO president Sheilah Clay.

Clay, who oversaw renovation of the building, said the need was obvious.

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(credit: Neighborhood Services Organization)

"I looked at the eyes of the people ... and saw no hope and no life," said Clay. "I remember that day; I started crying and said I can't do this anymore. I needed to end their homelessness."

A former U.S. Marine and firefighter, Aaron found himself homeless after separating from his wife amid tough economic times. He's been at the Bell building for about a year.

"The building is the shell, but it's the people living inside that make this place what it is," he said. "People here are friendsly and open-minded. The building allows me to have a whole new sense of independence."

Another resident, Elisabeth, said earning her GED and taking courses in health and literacy offered by the NSO helped her gain a quality of life that would not have been possible otherwise.

"I thank God every day for this place," she said. "It's a blessing for me — a roof over my head where I have the opportunity to achieve."

Funding for the project came from a combination of equity financing; donations by individuals, corporations and foundations; tax credits; and loans and grants from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, Michigan State Housing Development Authority, City of Detroit, Wayne County, The Kresge Foundation, The McGregor Fund, The National Trust Community Investment Corporation, Bank of America, Corporation for Supportive Housing, Local Initiatives Support Corporation and the Opportunity Resource Fund, as well as thousands of individuals.

Learn more about the project HERE.

Bell Building (1)
(credit: Neighborhood Services Organization)
Bell Building (9)
(credit: Neighborhood Services Organization)
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An apartment at the Bell Building. (credit: Neighborhood Services Organization)

See more photos HERE.

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