A journalist’s account of how and why she took a chance on a new life and home-rehabilitation project in the down-and-out city of Detroit.
When former Fortune Small Business senior editor Haimerl and her husband, Karl, decided to leave their increasingly unaffordable Brooklyn neighborhood of Red Hook, it was with the idea of going somewhere that, unlike such trendy cities as Portland or Seattle, “was forging its future.” The couple eventually chose Detroit, which appealed because of its “powerful lure of its cheap real estate.” They made their first move away from New York after Haimerl received a prestigious journalism fellowship from the University of Michigan. When a post-graduation job offer at a Detroit newspaper came through, she and her husband took their entire savings and bought an abandoned 1914 Georgian Revival in a revivifying neighborhood. Though listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the house, which the couple bought for just $35,000, was a “3,000-square-foot box of fuckedupedness” that had no electricity, running water, or heat. Friends and longtime Detroit residents urged them to walk away from their investment, but they refused. Armed with an initial remodeling budget of $100,000, they befriended a genially quirky contractor and committed Detroiter who told them that the house would need more than three times that amount to simply become livable. Risking their financial futures on real estate in a city struggling to find its way out of bankruptcy, the pair cast their lot with others like themselves who took Detroit for what it was and didn’t attempt to “make it over into what they left.” Haimerl does not ignore how her place in the middle class made homeownership possible for her, nor does she forget the problematic nature of Detroit's recovery. At the same time, she also concludes that the “key to the city's future” is investment by people and banks willing to believe in Detroit's value as a place to call home.
An engaging and cautiously optimistic memoir of making a new life.