'Build on it'

By Lawrence Cosentino

Land Bank finishes rehab of 530 Pacific Ave. as new owners move in

Schinita Greenwood slipped into the kitchen alone to grab some coffee.

“I don’t want people to see how much sugar I’m putting in,” she said.

The moment was already pretty sweet. Seven months ago, the house at 530 Pacific Ave., on Lansing’s near south side, was a dump. Rusted metal cabinets and a leaking drop ceiling dangled around the spot where Greenwood was standing and stirring her java. The rest of the house was in equally bad shape. The front porch was sinking and the basement floor was buckling upwards.

However, the heaps of junk left by the previous owners included a heart-shaped sign: “Whatsoever lot God gives you in life … build on it.”

In June, the Ingham County Land Bank finished renovating the two-story 1925 house it had purchased in July 2011 for $6,371 in back taxes owed by the absent owner.

Land Bank Chairman Eric Scherzing and a knot of staffers schmoozed at the house with Greenwood and her family July 13.

Greenwood, 38, bought the house in June. In mid-July, she started moving in with her 16-year-old son, Lynell, her 12-year-old daughter, Alleen, and her 71-year-old mom, Alleen Childress.

Alleen the elder moved to Lansing from Kentucky in 1971. “She was born and raised here,” Alleen said of Greenwood. “She’s my baby.”

Greenwood and the kids lived at Alleen’s house in Lansing for the past several years.

Other than hinting at a previous marriage, Greenwood didn’t want to talk much about the life she’s leaving behind. In February, she started her own business, Open Arms, a companion service for elderly people.

“It’s a dream house for a fresh new start,” she said. “Me and the house are getting a second chance.” 

Alleen the elder seemed to float over the hardwood floors.

“The way they gutted it out, it’s like they rebuilt the house,” she said. “I don’t know where I’ll put my sewing machine yet. Wherever I put it, that will be my favorite spot.”

The Land Bank asked Greenwood if she wanted the battered piano the previous owners left behind, but she politely declined. She doesn’t play.

“I want to, but not that one,” she said.

The piano went to a day care center, where the kids can batter it to their heart’s content.

About 30 people have worked on 530 Pacific since last November, including five roofers, three men working on the exterior shell, a plumber, an electrical contractor, four painters, a carpenter, a cabinet specialist, a sewer specialist and a mysterious figure named “Little Tony.”

Land Bank staffer Linda Schonberg said all the bills aren’t in yet, but the project cost “a little over” the planned $50,000 investment.

Schertzing said the sale was “about a wash,” but making a profit wasn’t the point.

“Whether we break even or overinvested in the property, we’re taking what was a slightly blighted property that was hindering the neighborhood,” Schertzing said. “The payback multiplies out into the entire neighborhood.”

Besides, Schertzing argued, decay, rust and entropy don’t slow down along with the housing market.

“A house needs what a house needs,” Schertzing said. “We don’t want to sell people a bad bill of goods.”

Many Land Bank makeovers include gutting and redoing kitchens and bathrooms, replacing the furnace and windows to make them energy efficient, swapping galvanized plumbing for modern “flex” pipes, replacing the roof and reversing all the bad interior decoration decisions of prior decades, especially the 1970s, to make the house saleable. The house at 530 Pacific needed all that and more.

A dark and musty room at the back of the house, added to the building and used as an office by previous owners, was converted into a laundry room and half bath.

Land Bank construction specialist Bruce Kehren said that was among the “more significant changes” made in the house, along with a whole new front porch and a new basement floor and drainage system.

The house also sports a new deck in back, but that was a free bonus. Dave Vincent, a code compliance officer for the city of Lansing, took on the deck as a statewide training session on how to build and hang a deck properly.

Workshops like Vincent’s are meant to fight what Schertzing calls the “Home Depot effect.”

“Lumberyards will give you this deck package and tell you ‘You can do it in a weekend,’” Schertzing said. “They get a bunch of buddies together, come in with a 12-pack of beer, and the decks are, ah, often a compromise. That shows up as the weather takes its toll.”

Back in the dining room, Greenwood quizzed Kehren about the interior walls.

“We spent four hours and broke three drill bits putting up the blinds,” she said.

Kehren explained that he put dry wall over old walls of lath (wooden studs) and old-school plaster that’s “a close relative to cement.”

“Felt like straight cement,” Greenwood said. “I was just curious about what’s behind there. I’m not moving out or anything.”

The renovation of 530 Pacific was part of a flurry of rehabs at the Land Bank that reached a peak last year, with nearly 40 houses under renovation. As federal stimulus funds are nearly spent, that figure is down to about 12 rehabs this summer, according to Schertzing.

But he added that strong Land Bank sales and low costs will allow more activity than he first expected this fall.

The same morning the group met at 530 Pacific, the Land Bank closed on its 33rd sale of the year, more than all of 2011 and ahead its goal of selling 50 properties in 2012.

As the party broke up, Schertzing, always looking for the teachable moment, reminded Greenwood to close her basement vent windows at night to keep out moisture.

To soften the lecture, he offered a raw confession. 

“I have a dryer that partially vents into the basement, because I haven’t fixed it,” he blurted out rashly, forgetting that a few of his employees, including Schonberg, were in earshot.

“Eric!” Schonberg said in shock.

“I keep a dehumidifier going down there all the time,” he added sheepishly.

You read it first in City Pulse.