Brightmoor Community Comes Together to Protect Historic Farmhouse from Arson

A neighborhood in Brightmoor is working to save a home, after its owners were priced out by home insurance.

Marissa Gawel/WDET

A 100-year-old farmhouse on the western end of Detroit’s Brightmoor neighborhood is one of the oldest and most beloved structures in the area, but it’s recently become vacant and under threat of scrappers… or worse. The surrounding community is now coming together to protect the gem of the neighborhood from the fate of many Brightmoor homes: arson.

Jonathan Pommerville says despite spending decades living in, and outfitting, the white, clapboard farmhouse with relics from the 1940’s, Matt and Paula Lahti moved out of Brightmoor earlier this month.

“She cries every day. He was staying here every night. He even slept on a floor on a sleeping bag, without any power in here. They love it that much. They don’t wanna see it going, and that was his deal. He wanted to make sure the keys got into someone’s hand that was gonna help preserve this place.”

-Jonathan Pommerville

Pommerville is part of a community organization called Northwest Brightmoor Renaissance. He’s helping the neighborhood effort to protect the house until a new tenant moves in. One of the reasons the Lahtis felt the need to leave is the same reason the house now needs watchers. Some neighbors–one in particular–have been burning down neighborhood buildings. Pommerville says as much as the Lahti’s want to get away from their neighbor, they don’t want to see their home reduced to ashes.  

Marissa Gawel/WDET

Another neighbor, Tammy Moore, is also worried about the farmhouse sitting empty for too long.

I’m afraid someone’s going to go inside, strip the house, or move into it. We already have squatters next door. I’m watching the house. We’re all watching the house now.”

-Tammy Moore

Pommerville says there was another reason for the move though: the Lahti’s increasing home insurance rates were pricing them out of Brightmoor.

So they went from like a manageable one, probably from nearly around 200 bucks to well over 800 bucks… per month.”

-Jonathan Pommerville

A nearby insurance agent, Walter Gardner, confirmed the rate.

I have in my database quotes that go up as high as $15,000 [annually].”

-Walter Gardner

Gardner says rates in the area can be up to 300-percent higher than those of similarly-sized homes outside of the city.

As Pommerville sees it, he could be living on a lake in Brighton for the same amount of insurance he pays to live in Brightmoor.

“Why do I stay here? Cause I love this place. I think this is a good place to have a community. And we can always run from our problems, but when you’re really doing something, you stand up and fight for it.”

-Jonathan Pommerville

So, Pommerville remains. He works to improve his neighborhood by helping to board up abandoned buildings and by running a YouTube channel that documents illegal dumpers. Walter Gardner tries to help by writing letters to the state capital about the insurance rates in Brightmoor, or by referring clients to the Michigan Basic Property Insurance Association.

As for the farmhouse, new tenants have moved in, and the squatter neighbor was recently arrested. Despite all these hopeful changes, Pommerville still finds illicit activity to film weekly, if not daily. And when neighbors meet they often share stories about dead bodies, fires or other suspicious activity. Even with the best intentions, Brightmoor remains a community Pommerville has to fight for.