It's hard to go anywhere in Detroit without seeing an empty house. Lonely, decaying homes are tucked into every corner, in every neighborhood, from the struggling areas at the city's edge to the otherwise-thriving downtown. Indeed, if there's one image that has come to symbolize Detroit in the minds of the country at large, it's almost certainly that of the abandoned building, splayed across news article after news article as a sort of easy shorthand for the complex troubles of this city.
As Venture for America Fellows who've been living, working and playing here for the past year, we know that there's so much more to Detroit than the images of abandoned houses suggest. Still, it only takes a few days of living here to understand the problems that the city's vacant structures bring. Deserted buildings are magnets for crime and fire. And since nobody wants to live next to an abandoned house, a block with many of them can become a self-fulfilling prophecy. There are large-scale blight removal programs currently underway, and they represent real progress -- but we believe there are ways for individuals like ourselves to have an impact as well.
That's why we've started Rebirth Realty. We're going to remove blight not by tearing a house down, but by fixing it up. In September, we purchased a run-down, three-story Detroit house, and since then we've been spending our nights and weekends working to restore it to the beauty it had when it was first built. Our plan is to transform this house -- and, in the future, others like it -- into a home for future Venture for America Fellows who will become a part of the local community for years to come.
So, how do four 20-somethings with a collective zero years of homeownership experience buy a house? With practice, luck and just a splash of recklessness. Since Detroit's real estate market is so unpredictable, we purchased our house in the county tax auction, where abandoned (and tax-delinquent) properties are sold off each year. Although the auction process can be confusing -- and runs off a website that seems to have last been updated in 1998 -- it can be a great way to get an affordable house, especially if you don't have your heart set on one specific property.
The house we've chosen is located at 760 Virginia Park St. in Detroit's up-and-coming New Center neighborhood. Most of the houses on this block were built over one hundred years ago, when some of the city's most prominent developers gathered together to create what they envisioned as an upper-middle-class enclave for well-to-do Detroit families. Although the block has lost a lot of its luster since then, it's retained a delightful, neighborly character, with new arrivals like ourselves mixed in with those who've lived in the city for generations.
Our house was -- and still is -- beautiful, but it needs a lot of love. During the many years it sat abandoned, it was raided, stripped and trashed, and key components were sadly allowed to slip into disrepair. After around a month of work, we've completed almost all of the necessary demolition and cleanup and are preparing to join forces with local rehab specialists to install all new heating, electrical and plumbing. In less than a year, 760 Virginia Park will contain seven responsible and involved VFA tenants.
As Venture for America Fellows, we believe in our nation's cities, and we believe that owning and caring for a property allows you to commit to a city in a way that renting never can. Urban renewal is one of the great causes of our generation, and we're thrilled to be on the front lines of Detroit's renaissance.
Interested in learning more? You can track our progress and contact us directly on our website, RebirthRealty.com. We're also currently running a crowdfunding campaign to restore our house's historic slate roof, and we'd love your support!
This blog post is part of a series produced by The Huffington Post and Venture for America, in conjunction with the Venture for America Innovation Fund. Right now, seven teams of VFA Fellows are competing for access to $20,000 to get projects off the ground and make an impact in in Detroit, Providence, Cincinnati and New Orleans. To see all the other posts in the series, click here. For more information about Venture for America, click here.