Plans are in motion to build a Syrian refugee haven around an abandoned Pontiac elementary school.
The project is the brainchild of some Metro Detroit Syrian-American refugee advocates.
Local businessman Ismael Basha is one of the project’s organizers.
Basha says he and a partner have purchased the former Franklin Elementary School, along with about 120 vacant lots surrounding the school.
“Our vision is to remodel the school, and turn it into a community and social service center, [for both] the new arriving local refugees and the local community,” says Basha.
Basha says they hope to rehab the school, which is structurally sound but “gutted” inside, this winter. In the spring, they hope to break ground on the new housing.
Basha admits that part of the project is still less certain. He says the group is now meeting with architects to plan homes that are “high-quality, yet very affordable. That in itself is a challenge,” he says.
Basha says Pontiac officials have been very supportive of the project. He believes it’s an ideal spot to re-settle new refugees, because the local Syrian-American community is clustered in that part of Oakland County. There’s also access to schools, hospitals, and other services they would need.
Basha says the group is working with developers, but insists this is not at all a for-profit venture. “We are just trying to help our people, and trying to help the local residents in the 5 to 10 blocks around that school,” he says.
The group is also continuing its push for the U.S. to take in more Syrian refugees. It’s accepted only about 2,000 refugees since the country’s civil war and refugee crisis began.
The Obama administration has proposed upping that to as many as 30,000 per year by 2017. Many Syrian-American activists say that number is still too low.