The Equity Factor

Detroit Organization Giving Houses to Writers

One of Write-A-House’s Detroit homes. Credit: Andy Kopietz

The myth of $1 homes on Detroit’s urban prairie has some competition. A new non-profit organization is handing over houses to writers who want to live in the Motor City.

Well, they’re not just forking over the deed and calling it a day. Write-A-House plans to start by restoring one of three homes it owns with money raised via Indiegogo, a crowd-funding website. Writers who qualify as “low income” can apply this spring. It’s no different than applying for a residency: Simply send a mission statement and writing sample.

But the writers can’t flip the house and move back to the coasts. They will have to live there for two years at very minimal costs — basically taxes and insurance. Should writers choose to stay after that, the deed will be turned over to them. It’s a grassroots attempt at rebuilding a neighborhood block by block, while simultaneously hoping to enrich Detroit’s literary culture.

“This is a city with unique, historic, and fascinating stuff happening. We think there are writers who will want to come and be a part of it,” Sarah F. Cox, founding editor of Curbed Detroit and a Write-A-House board member, said in a release.

Write-A-House has teamed up with Detroit Young Builders, a local organization that works with young Detroiters on construction and contracting skills. Toby Barlow, one of the founding board members, spoke about the program at Next City’s 10th Anniversary celebration last month. (You can watch the video here.)

What Write-A-House really gets at is not only sweat equity, but simple equity at the neighborhood level. Nothing can change overnight, but by moving writers into the neighborhoods outside of Midtown and Downtown, the group can help spread both people and cultural capital into other corners of the city.

The Equity Factor is made possible with the support of the Surdna Foundation.

Bill Bradley is based in Brooklyn. His writing has appeared in The Daily, Bloomberg Businessweek, GQ.com and Vanity Fair, among others. Follow him on Twitter @billbradley3.

Tags: economic development, equity factor, detroit, neighborhoods, toby barlow, cultural capital