Developer renovating block includes longtime neighbor's for free

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Lorraine Griffin was just a child when she moved to her home in Detroit about 50 years ago.

"I know all the kids in the neighborhood they call me Auntie Lorraine. And I know them, their parents, their grandparents you know? When we moved here we were the third black family in this block," she said.

Over the years as Detroit weathered the storm, hundreds of developers have tried talking her into giving up her family home. It wasn't until one day after church that a surprise visitor changed her life forever.

"There's another guy sitting in front of my house and I thought to myself, I am going to tell you the truth, 'Here's another white guy trying to buy my house,'" she said, laughing. "But it was a blessing. His vision for the property and everything was just great."

Sitting in front of her house was a developer named Joe Ventimiglia -- but this offer was a bit different. Joe bought the three other units that Lorraine's home was sandwiched between and instead of asking her to move, he decided to include her unit in the renovation process. That means new doors, a new roof and a new look for her home.

"Because she stuck it out, she deserves to enjoy the rebirth of the building. She also has the opportunity to have the value change from $10,000-$300,000 for her," Ventimiglia said.

Every other developer looked at her home sandwiched between what will become hot real estate and offered a few choices -- move out or sell. But Ventimiglia wanted her to stay and is doing all the work for free. It's a win-win for everyone, and the Detroit land bank leadership says they're glad to see it shake out this way. 

"We do a number of transactions all the time and then every once in a while you get one that reminds you of how unique this role is in the community," said Saskia Thompson with the land bank. "There are a lot of people here who have always been here and that remain committed to this place and we want to make sure that their past and the present are both connected to Detroit in the best way possible."

As for Lorraine, she's calling it a blessing. 

"When there was nobody here but me, we can all this lawn beautiful and flowers and everything. They're all gone but my mama's 30-year-old rosebush is still there, and they promised they won't touch it."