New home, new hope: Muskegon Heights is getting its first new house in 17 years

MUSKEGON HEIGHTS, Michigan (WOOD) — After years of neighborhood decay and demolition, Muskegon Heights city leaders are hoping a single-family home now under construction will be a turning point, or perhaps at least a start.

It is the first house to be built in the city in 17 years.

“This is 1,600 square feet, one story, three bedrooms, two baths, so it’s a small ranch,” said Holly Pontius, an instructor at Muskegon County’s Career Tech Center.

Technology center high school students are building it with help from AmeriCorps and a local nonprofit called Lake Hawks In Flight. The basement walls are due to be poured on Friday.

“That’s what it’s about, it’s about teaching young people skills and helping them see how they can improve their own community,” Pontius said.

Janet Robinson, whose great-grandparents once lived on the corner of East Hume Avenue, donated the land. The house was demolished in the summer.

“Everyone here wants their community to improve, and that starts somewhere,” Pontius said. “If it just starts with this one little house that we build with students, then that’s where change happens, that’s where hope comes from.”

“It gives them hope,” Muskegon Heights Mayor Pro-tem Ronald Jenkins said of the neighbors. “You can see that this can happen. Families can say, “I can own a house. I can build a house from scratch. You can actually see that because it’s happening right here.”

Census data shows Muskegon Heights has lost 17% of its population since 2000, down to fewer than 10,000 and one in 10 of its homes.

In some neighborhoods, this has left driveway after driveway leading to empty lots choked with trash.

The new home is being built less than two blocks from a burned-out, abandoned house surrounded by piles of rubbish.

It’s not far from crossroads that have turned to gravel.

But more importantly, it’s around the corner from Sophia Kirks, who is proud of the tidy, two-story home she’s owned and raised her two children in for more than half a century.

Muskegon Heights was a lot healthier when she bought this home, she said.

“There were a lot of people at home, and now they’ve moved away. There was a house,” she said, pointing to the empty lot next door, “and one on the other side down there.”

Both lots are now empty.

“I’m glad to see houses coming our way,” she said. “Maybe I’ll live to see it.

“There is hope, there is hope. I have never given up hope. There is hope.”

In the spring, at the end of the school year, the new home should be ready. New home, new hope: Muskegon Heights is getting its first new house in 17 years

Dais Johnston

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