The strengthening of Detroit’s housing market is having a fundamental impact on the nonprofit Write A House, which donates homes to aspiring writers.
Established in 2012, Write a House was giving away houses to authors after they had lived in the spaces for at least two years, and, as the organization put it, “engaged with the Detroit literary community.” But, starting next year, the nonprofit will shift from gifting houses to renting them.
Beginning in 2017, writers who apply to live in one of the nonprofit's renovated houses will have the option to stay there rent-free for as long as they wish, but they will no longer have the chance to own the home. Write A House will, moving forward, maintain ownership of the homes in order to combat what it describes as a "narrative of real estate speculation, house flipping [and] gentrification."
Elaborating on this, the group's co-founder and executive director, Sarah Cox, said that Write A House does not want to give away a home, and watch as the owner tries to sell it for profit. Although the nonprofit has not encountered this issue, the organization wants to be proactive and prevent the scenario from happening.
"Before, the idea that anyone could sell these houses was not feasible," she told PW, noting that, in 2012, “giving away a house wasn’t such a huge burden" because prices were so low. The first two homes that Write A House gave away—to Casey Rocheteau from Brooklyn in 2014, and Liana Aghajanian from Los Angeles in 2015—had cost just $1,000 each.
"As the market gains, the pressure to sell could increase with the value of the house," she said. "We don't want someone feeling that if they stayed, they'd forgo a big check from flipping it."
With housing prices significantly up in the Detroit area, the proposition of gifting a home is not the same as it was when Write a House launched. The Detroit Free Press, reporting on the local real estate boom, noted in an April article that Detroit housing prices have risen to "insane levels." Median house prices in the city's Midtown neighborhood have climbed to $300,000, almost double 2013’s median house price of $167,900. The newspaper ascribed the trend to more millennials desiring an urban living experience in the Motor City, along with a shortage of available housing stock.
While the spike in housing costs is not as extreme in the Banglatown and North End neighborhoods, where Write A House owns all of its properties, prices in this area have also risen.
Write A House currently owns five homes, of which three are occupied and two are uninhabitable, but scheduled for renovation. It also owns two vacant lots. “There aren’t that many houses selling for $1,000 anymore,” Cox said. “We want to stay as true to the original concept as possible, but we need to be responsible."