A young college grad buys a house in Detroit for $500 and attempts to restore it—and his new neighborhood—to its original glory in this “deeply felt, sharply observed personal quest to create meaning and community out of the fallen…A standout” (Kirkus Reviews, starred review).
Drew Philp, an idealistic college student from a working-class Michigan family, decides to live where he can make a difference. He sets his sights on Detroit, the failed metropolis of abandoned buildings, widespread poverty, and rampant crime. Arriving with no job, no friends, and no money, Philp buys a ramshackle house for five hundred dollars in the east side neighborhood known as Poletown. The roomy Queen Anne he now owns is little more than a clapboard shell on a crumbling brick foundation, missing windows, heat, water, electricity, and a functional roof.
A $500 House in Detroit is Philp’s raw and earnest account of rebuilding everything but the frame of his house, nail by nail and room by room. “Philp is a great storyteller…[and his] engrossing” (Booklist) tale is also of a young man finding his footing in the city, the country, and his own generation. We witness his concept of Detroit shift, expand, and evolve as his plan to save the city gives way to a life forged from political meaning, personal connection, and collective purpose. As he assimilates into the community of Detroiters around him, Philp guides readers through the city’s vibrant history and engages in urgent conversations about gentrification, racial tensions, and class warfare.
Part social history, part brash generational statement, part comeback story, A $500 House in Detroit “shines [in its depiction of] the ‘radical neighborliness’ of ordinary people in desperate circumstances” (Publishers Weekly). This is an unforgettable, intimate account of the tentative revival of an American city and a glimpse at a new way forward for generations to come.
In this impassioned memoir, a young man finds a community flourishing in a city so depopulated that houses are worth less than a used Chevy. Journalist Philp moved to Detroit fresh out of college in 2008 and bought a derelict house in Poletown, a once bustling but now desolate neighborhood going to prairie and ruin. He finds that deep poverty, scant city services, and little police protection have birthed a culture of do-it-yourself improvisation and mutual aid among its denizens: artists, scavengers, hipsters, and longtime homeowners hanging on by their fingernails. Philp ably captures the frontier feel of Detroit he gets attacked by wild dogs, fends off a home invader with his shotgun, and is forever gazing at burning buildings as he laboriously rehabs his ruined house from foundation to roof. His homebuilding narrative is engrossing, but his city-building prescriptions are less so: he serves up overwrought anticapitalist soapboxing against "the calculating men in suits trying to squeeze every last little bit of profit from all I find holy" and extols tired urban farming nostrums that would only further the hollowing-out of Detroit. The book shines when he sticks to the "radical neighborliness" of ordinary people in desperate circumstances. Photos.