Littered with historic architecture, it’s not difficult to find shining examples of craftsmanship from the 19th and early 20th centuries in Detroit neighborhoods like Midtown, Indian Village or Boston-Edison. Even outside of specifically historical spots, it’s rare that the city isn’t showcasing a unique architectural flair — a fact not lost on the members of Building Cooperatively, a Detroit construction cooperative based in North End. Operating since last year, they’ve been slowly revitalizing homes across their neighborhood, starting with their own.
“We all just started kind of working together and as a cooperative. Before we had founded the LLC, we had all worked together, essentially, on various jobs throughout each other’s homes,” said a co-op member who goes by Perez and who lives in a home with historical elements in North End. “My co-workers painted the columns on my house.”
Currently eight members strong, Perez said that the idea for the cooperative happened while the members were attending a program offered by the Michigan Historic Preservation Network about historic trades.
“We were thinking about that in particular because a lot of us all lived on the same street or within streets of each other. They live off of King Street in the North End and I live off of Philadelphia which is three streets away, but we’re all in North End,” he said. “So, it was kind of just, ‘Well, we all live in the same area, we all do the same things,’ and we all wanted to create something that could be beneficial to the neighborhood.”
Restorations include things like plasterwork, painting, weatherization and the installation of fixtures — among other jobs — and each of the members provides their expertise in various specialties.
“Generally, we’re looking to help our neighbors a lot, especially if we can,” Perez said. “You know, the more work that we have, the more we’re able to contribute to the neighborhood, so it’s really important for us that we work on King Street especially right now.”
However, that isn’t to say that the co-op members will turn down work requests from outside of their neighborhood. Eventually, Building Cooperatively hopes to start projects across the Metro Detroit area.
Members of the cooperative working on a project.
Priority on Inclusivity
Building Cooperatively, though it’s the organization’s name, could be taken as a literal statement, too, when considering the co-op’s dedication to creating an inclusive and fair environment for both its members and customers. For instance, the mission statement makes clear that it holds itself to “honoring and developing ethical business practices and providing competitive living wages to Detroiters.”
And according to Perez, a focus on empowerment is a huge factor for those who are members.
“Word is we are the biggest and/or only construction cooperative in the state. Many of our founding members are queer and POC,” Perez said in an email statement to BTL. “We view our cooperative as a means to further equity in the city amongst workers and especially in the construction industry. We are focused on helping our neighbors and community, and have done some projects so far for local activists and friends.”
Perez went on to add that Building Cooperatively’s members also have backgrounds in activism, which is part of the reason its community-focused environment is a possibility.
“Everybody comes from really some kind of activist background at this point. I mean literally, everybody is some kind of artist, some kind of activist, some kind of [active] community member, so it benefits us to work with each other because we don’t have to worry about those prejudices like sexism,” he said. “We don’t have to worry about those things as a company or as a community. It’s nice to just be able to go in, do my job, hang out with my co-workers and not be discriminated against because trades can definitely be that way.”
And because members are so closely tied to the LGBTQ community, or members of it themselves, Perez said that fostering a good relationship with LGBTQ clients is a huge focus for the cooperative.
“So for me, yes, it’s important to have specifically LGBTQ clients. I mean, obviously not every single person is going to be — that would just be lit and great — probably great houses,” he said with a laugh. “The reality is that we’re going to have to be there for each other and we have a lot of different people with a lot of different ideas, so if we can help a community member out or someone out, we’d rather participate in those kinds of jobs than anything that’s just about money.”
Joining, Hiring and Advising
Beyond being specifically a physical service provider, the cooperative exists to provide advice and knowledge to those interested in pursuing their own building goals or perhaps even a career in the trades, in a kind of mentoring community format.
“If they have questions about what they can get involved in, trades even or how to go to trade schools they can always contact us. We’re happy to offer advice or anything because I think a lot of people don’t understand how to get started,” he said.
And, of course, those interested in either lending their skills or seeking out Building Cooperatively’s services are always encouraged to contact the organization directly via phone, or email or through social media.
“Maybe they’re a person who, let’s say, needs help deciding what to do with this project or they need an idea for historic restoration. Or they want to know, ‘What can I do with this?’ They can have us come over and offer advice on that because sometimes the cost of it can be so much,” Perez said. “We’re always looking in the immediate area and we’re looking for interesting projects.”
For those interested in learning more about Building Cooperatively and its services, visit buildingcooperatively.com to view a project gallery and services list. Or, reach out by emailing [email protected] or leaving a message at 313-444-9604.