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Wednesday, June 3,2009

On Ray Street

An entire block in the Baker-Donora neighborhood will get a facelift this week.

by Neal McNamara

Last Friday afternoon, the white and green paint on Claudio Reyes’ tall house along Ray Street in Lansing was damp and still quivering from a recent power washing. In some areas, the unluckiest paint had been completely blasted away, revealing the dark brown wood underneath, just right for a fresh coat.


It has been about 10 years since the house was last painted, Reyes guesses. It was then that he chose a Michigan State University color scheme — white with green trim — and fashioned a big Spartan “S” out of wood with a neighbor that he placed near the apex of his roof.


“I like MSU,” he said, smiling, seated on the concrete steps in front of his house. He also likes Texas, the outline of which is embedded in his concrete patio. And, of course, his grandkids, whose tiny footprints he points to on the top step.


Nearby Reyes, seated at a metal table taking a lunch break, were the power washers: Tom Jackson, Mark “Hawkeye” Smith and Bernard Alexander Bacon. Smith, who owns a mint green house two down from Reyes, has lived in the Baker-Donora neighborhood since 1986. It was better back then, he said. There was a pumpkin carving event and a lot more kids.


“It’s changed,” he said, but it’s still a good place to live.


Reyes’ house is dead center on the east side of this stretch of Ray Street between Norman and Isbell streets. The homes up and down the street vary from big to small, brightly painted to vinyl-sided; some lawns are patchy and cluttered, others are neatly trimmed and empty; some are being rented, some are being bought on land contract, some are owned (Reyes has had his for 33 years), and one is abandoned.

But this week, they will all be included in an “extreme” makeover. Modeled off the popular television show, volunteers will paint entire homes, plant grass, replace screens and whatever other cosmetic work needs to be done on 15 homes — plus three on Norman and two on Isbell.

The makeover, thought of six years ago by Lansing code compliance officer Dave Vincent and Lansing Neighborhood Council President Bill Houghtaling, is being sponsored by the Ingham County Land Bank, plus a mass of churches, private companies and individual donors. Most of the work began Monday, and is scheduled be complete by Saturday.

This block of Ray Street — parts of Lynvall and Pontiac streets have had makeovers in the past — was chosen for the makeover by the Baker-Donora Center. The neighborhood, which is roughly bordered by Baker Street, Mt. Hope Avenue, Pennsylvania Avenue and Cedar Street, has had the reputation of being one of the roughest in the city. Neighbors still complain of drug dealing and fly-by-night landlords who rent to seedy tenants, but Anita Moneypenny, director of the Baker-Donora Center, says it has come a long way since the 1990s.

“At one time, it was 70 percent rental,” Moneypenny said. “It’s a lot less now, and we’re making this a homeowners’ neighborhood
again.”


South of Reyes’ home and around the block on Norman Street is
Truman Yoder’s shotgun one-story house. Yoder is confined to a
wheelchair, and his ramp, which was too steep anyway, has been
partially dismantled. This week, it will get replaced.

“I had
a stroke in my spinal cord 10 years ago. I’m paralyzed from the waist
down,” said Yoder, a former corrections officer, who noted that his
stroke took place around the third time he was involved in a riot at
the Jackson correctional facility. He was in his wheelchair on his
porch with his wife, Brenda, and best friend, Ron, and all around them dangling
from the also recently powerwashed house was blue paint. “I would like
to thank the volunteers for helping out. I appreciate it much.”


In
Yoder’s side yard flapping atop a flagpole was a Native American-themed
flag. Yoder is part of the Odawa tribe, and Brenda said that people in
the neighborhood call theirs the “Indian house.”

Back on Ray
Street, Kathy Miller was reading a paperback novel inside her front
porch. She said she would get new grass, flower boxes and new screens
for her windows. She was worried, however, that her landlord would use
the improvements to jack up her rent.


“I think we really need it,” said
her daughter, Mercedes.

John Needham, whose big white house
features several ornate gargoyle knockers, lives next to the abandoned
house on Ray Street. He was stressed out about the makeover, saying
that it was happen ing too
fast. He will be getting his house painted green, but asked that the
volunteers let him handle the painting of his front porch.

“It
helps me out,” he said, excitedly, standing shirtless in his front
yard. “I picked green, because that’s the color I like.”


For
Moneypenny, she sees the makeover as a way to get neighbors out to
mingle and maybe pick up a paintbrush.
When this reporter told
her that he had met a group of volunteers and Reyes, she remarked as if
his home was some sort of beacon for the neighborhood.

“Oh yeah,” she said. “The big Spartan house!”



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