The $100 House: 'Wonderful and Sad'

Cope has hired neighborhood teenagers to help do fix-up work, including a pink paint job on a fence that fronted an abandoned property. He and other neighbors have organized to pick up and haul away piles of trash.

As for any hopes to benefit financially from their commitment to the neighborhood, Reichert said, "It would be nice not to have to sweat it out every month. But no, [profit] is not our motivation."

Cope said, "Money isn't on my radar. We're going about it all wrong if we're trying to make a profit."

$100 House: 'This Is It'

They're more interested in recruiting other artists to live in their community. They sold the house they bought for $500 to another pair of artists, Zeb Smith and Corine Vermeulen-Smith. The price was $549.99.

Cope and Reichert also scouted properties for friends. That's how they found the house that sold for $100, a price newcomers Wagner and Brumit found irresistible.

Reichert e-mailed a photo of the house with a large "$100" label. "I said, 'OK, this is it,'" Brumit said. "Let's do it."

By most standards, the interior of the house is appalling. Neighbors said it had been vacant for a couple of years after its residents had abandoned it. Attempts to sell it failed, and it was taken off the market.

A fire had been set in a corner of the front room, causing widespread smoke damage throughout the lower floor of the house, which has about 1,500 square feet of space. The walls were blackened. The wiring was stripped. Firefighters had knocked a hole in the roof.

But Wagner and Brumit say the shell of the home is structurally sound, and they plan to create studio space in the front of the house by knocking down one of the peeling, smoke-damaged walls.

They see the house as a kind of blank canvas on which they can create workspaces and a home. They cannot afford to hire others to do the work, and plan to do most of the labor themselves.

If they succeed, they'll have a home that is debt-free and rent-free, with property taxes amounting to around $1,000 a year.

"This house was worth $70,000 two years ago," Wagner said, shaking her head. "I mean, this is both wonderful and incredibly sad, all at the same time."

"This is what we have to work with," Brumit said, "to try to build something new."

Brumit, who has performed and recorded as a musician and producer, also plans to produce a radio project in the neighborhood this summer.

Building a Better Future

Toby Barlow, a Detroit novelist ("Sharp Teeth") and advertising executive who knows Cope and Reichert, said they and their friends are pioneers.

"It's not going to be a place for the Ozzie and Harriets to come resettle," Barlow said. "It's going to be a great place for people who want to try something different. ... I don't think anybody is looking to this city as a place for solutions; and what's interesting about that is that because of the neglect, solutions are actually popping up."

"In my perspective, that's the American dream," Cope said. "Following your heart and going for it, building something that you think is going to create something for the future."

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