Drew Philip, a young college grad, dreamed of owning his own home. When he discovered a crumbling Queen Anne in a rough Detroit neighborhood, he did some research and found out the abode would be going up for auction. For only $500, he purchased the home. He immediately set to work, tapping into his blue collar background and can-do attitude to get the job done. He wasn’t alone in his endeavor. Over the years, Drew had collected a colorful assemblage of friends, including urban farmers and artists. Drew’s hardworking father and grandfather, both of whom have experience in construction, pitched in to help. They also worried about Drew and his well-being. Wild dogs roamed the streets, houses were burglarized and set on fire and neighbors couldn’t always be trusted. On top of that, Drew worked non-stop, both on the house and at part-time jobs that would pay for the renovations bit by bit. With the odds stacked against him, would his house ever be finished?
A tale of optimism and redemption in the face of insurmountable obstacles, A $500 House in Detroit is more than just a book about a house. Interspersed with Drew’s story is the story of a city: the racial tensions, the pushback against gentrification, the frustration with those seeking out “ruin porn.” The book profiles the unsung heroes of Detroit who are transforming the city not through large-scale development, but rather through grassroots efforts. Many books about the Motor City have been published in recent years; this one offers a more personal account of the tenacity of the human spirit.