Detroit’s Motown Movement Seeks to Build Community And Sustainability

Dutch students saw an opportunity to create affordable, sustainable housing. They’ve learned a lot about Detroit along the way.

The house at 1995 Ford St. in Detroit’s Dexter-Linwood neighborhood isn’t just another boarded-up building — it’s an experiment.

Three Dutch college students, concerned about climate change, discovered that many energy-saving technologies are expensive — too costly for people with low incomes. They wanted to see if they could create a living space that’s affordable and energy efficient. They left their home in the Netherlands and came to Detroit to test their idea. They bought the house near the Lodge and Davison freeways for $1,000 and formed a nonprofit group called The Motown Movement

The Motown Movement

It hasn’t been easy.

“Building projects take a lot longer and are a lot more expensive than you expect them to be,” says Joost Tielken, who’s continuing the work the Motown Movement’s founders started. The first thing they did was to replace the roof. Since then, new windows have been installed on the upper floor. This level will eventually be an apartment for one of the many families in Detroit who’ve lost their home to foreclosure. Focus:HOPE, located just a few blocks away, will help select the family. The main floor will be a community center for the neighborhood. 

Ida De Boer handles external affairs for the Motown Movement. She says she’s been moved by the support they’ve gotten from the community.

“Detroit has a spirit of working together toward a better future, and I think that’s very inspiring.” Ida De Boer.

Pat Batcheller

De Boer and Tielken say they’ve also received some financial support from people back home in the Netherlands. De Boer says one fundraiser brought in about $50,000 toward the $230,000 goal. Much of that money will cover the cost of construction and some of the home’s energy-efficient features, such as insulated curtains.

“If you have very thick curtains with a certain material, that could save you almost as much as double-glazing (windows) would,” Tielken says.

Another fundraising event for sustainability entrepreneurs is planned for June 21 at the Motown Movement house. Tielken adds volunteers are also welcome.

“If you know a lot about sustainability, come and contact us, because we’re interested in everybody’s story.”

Click on the audio player to hear the conversation with WDET’s Pat Batcheller, and read excerpts from the Q&A, edited for length and clarity, below.

WDET: Why Detroit?

Joost Tielken: We thought in these extreme conditions of climate, it would be a great way to show that even with an old house that we bought for $1,000, you can make it sustainable for cheaper options than solar panels and windmills.

The Motown Movement

What have you done with this house?

Ida De Boer: We put on a new roof and we’re now renovating it. We’re planning for next year to make it a community home. The first floor will be a community center, and on the top floor there will be a family living there who have lost their home to tax foreclosure. That way we can show that these methods actually do work.

What have you learned?

Joost Tielken: Building projects take a lot longer and are a lot more expensive than you expect them to be.

Ida De Boer: People here are very open and really try to help each other. I also think Detroit really has a spirit of working together toward a better future, and I think that’s very inspiring.


  • Pat Batcheller
    Pat Batcheller is a host and Senior News Editor for 101.9 WDET, presenting local news, traffic and weather updates during Morning Edition. He is an amateur musician.