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Detroit Is Giving Writers Free Houses in an Effort to Rebuild

The bankrupt city is attempting a comeback story, and needs writers to tell it.
 
 
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Good news for struggling writers: the key to sustaining your lifestyle is to go to a city that’s struggling more.

A new nonprofit organization called Write-A-House, located in Detroit, Michigan (which, earlier this year, became the largest city in the United States to file for and enter bankruptcy) has found something creative to do with the city’s seemingly endless blocks of vacant homes—gut them from the inside-out, fix them up, and give them to writers. 

Sarah Cox, one of the founders of Write-A-House, and an editorial director for the real estate site Curbed, moved to Detroit from New York in 2010 in order to start the site’s Detroit blog. There, she witnessed the city's desire to rebuild and rebrand, and found what was missing in order to make the dream into a reality.

“In the past three years, I’ve seen incredible progress, but there is still so much room for more in the literary arts,” she said in a press release formally announcing the city-wide project. “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. 

The non-profit is currently in the process of raising $25,000 on crowd-funding site IndieGoGo, and working with Young Detroit Builders to help get the houses into shape using the city’s youth who are interested in building trades and contracting. So far, Write-A-House has already purchased three homes in the neighborhood of Hamtramck, known for its diversity and close proximity to Detroit proper. On the same street as the three refurbished houses is the Powerhouse Project, an organization that similarly prioritizes artists moving into the neighborhood in an effort to rebuild Detroit. 

Low-income writers apply to Write-A-House each Spring by sending writing samples and a letter of intent. The judges choosing writers based on their application include National Poet Laureate Billy Collins, writer and filmmaker Dream Hampton, poet Major Jackson, and more. The process would guarantee housing for at least two years, with writers leasing the homes from the non-profit directly. If the writers stay for a minimum of two years, they are awarded the deed to the home, and the city will have received a new resident, another step towards recovery. 

“We chose [these neighborhoods] to start because it’s a smaller community and we felt we could have an impact,” acting director Kat Hartman told The Huffington Post. For her, it’s a process of saving the city neighborhood by neighborhood. “They need more good neighbors.” For Detroit, it seems a good comeback story requires good writers to tell it.

 

Rod Bastanmehr is a freelance writer in New York City. Follow him on Twitter @rodb.

 
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