By Tim Dingman, Venture for America Class of 2012
I live on the 20th floor of an apartment building in downtown Detroit. When I look out my window, I see miles of city stretch out before me. The gleaming black DTE Energy tower stands tall, the tent-like bus station buzzes with the conversations of commuters, and the Motor City Casino's light-up face displays its psychedelic sequence of patterns. On a sunny summer day, there's nothing quite like it.
Upon closer examination, another feature of the city emerges: the multitude of abandoned buildings. I count three empty structures, each over ten stories tall, from my vista alone, not to mention the blocks of uninhabited homes in the distance. The first month I lived here, I watched some derelict structure burn for hours on the horizon one evening; arson is a common technique for citizens who can no longer stand the blight of the abandoned building on their blocks.
Behind the excess housing supply lies the mass exodus of people out of Detroit. At its peak in 1950, there were 1.85 million Detroiters; the figure from 2010 is just over 700,000, and the city continues to lose residents. The population hemorrhage and the mortgage crisis combined to decimate home prices, leaving some houses to sell for as little as $500.
While the situation for owners is one of excess, the situation for tenants is one of scarcity in the greater downtown area. Of the available rental units in Downtown and Midtown, two of the neighborhoods leading the Detroit renaissance, 95% were fully occupied in 2012. I had to put my name on a waiting list and paid rent for a month before even moving to Detroit just to live in my current apartment. With a recovering real estate market, a city on the rise, and a new generation ready to urbanize, the scene is set for revitalization of Detroit's core.
Enter Rebirth Realty.
A project founded by myself and fellow Venture For America Fellows Max Nussenbaum and Scott Lowe, Rebirth Realty aims to rebuild Detroit's neighborhoods, one house at a time. In conjunction with VFA Innovation Fund, we are running a crowdfunding campaign to raise capital for the purchase of an abandoned house at 730 Virginia Park Street. Located in the greater downtown neighborhood of New Center, Virginia Park is a shining example of the transformation of a community through home rehabilitation. Several homeowners have turned a row of dilapidated structures into homes for responsible and involved tenants.
Once we acquire the house, we'll restore it to its former beauty, then rent the house to VFA Fellows, caring residents who will take an active role in the community. For any restoration to happen, though, we need your help.
After a fire in 1805 destroyed most of what was then the Detroit settlement, the citizens rebuilt the town from the ground up. In honor of that event, the city's motto is "Speramus Meliora; Resurget Cineribus." Translated from Latin, it reads: "We Hope For Better Things; It Shall Rise From the Ashes." The same spirit of perseverance exists here today.
To support Rebirth Realty you can visit their RocketHub campaign, or share their project through Twitter or Facebook. All funds go towards the purchase and rehabilitation of the 730 Virginia Park St., and there are rewards for supporters.