Almost four years ago, after about a year of pre-launch board meetings, I fired off a press release to raise money to give away a home in Detroit to a writer. Here is a clipped version:
Announcing the launch of Write-A-House
December 19, 2013 A group of Detroit writers and urban activists have launched a campaign to award Detroit homes to writers based on the quality of their writing. It is a writer's in residence program where the writer gets to keep the residence, forever.
“I moved to Detroit in 2011 because there were compelling stories that I felt no one else was telling in the way I wanted," said Sarah F. Cox, founding editor of Curbed Detroit, “In the past three years, I've seen incredible progress, but there is still so much room for more in the literary arts. This is a city with unique, historic, and fascinating stuff happening. We think there are writers who will want to come and be a part of it.”
The first indiegogo campaign will restore one of the three homes they own in the neighborhood north of Hamtramck. “We chose this neighborhood to start because its a smaller community and we felt we could have an impact.” said Hartman, acting director of the organization. “The neighborhood has a level of vacancy that is affecting the quality of life for current residents. They need more good neighbors.” The neighborhood is currently home to many other artists, including the Powerhouse Project, an artist-run neighborhood-based nonprofit organization.
The group said they were open to writers from all over, both locally, nationally, and internationally. Writer’s must qualify as “low-income” to participate.
Founding board members include Michael Stone Richards, Toby Barlow, Kim James, Anna Clark, dream hampton, Jason Friedmann, Kat Hartman, Francis Grunow, Phil Cooley, and Sarah F. Cox.
Our Second home under renovation in 2013
Our second home awarded in 2015
Among the many things that have changed since then, we style it Write A House, not Write-A-House. What was super exciting at the time is I really had no idea what would happen next, if anyone would give us any money, if anyone would apply, and if they did, would they get here, realize this town was nuts, and storm out in two months.
In the following months we were totally overwhelmed with both donations and applications. In 2013 the idea of moving to Detroit and giving writers homes was truly novel. Thanks to our program, Casey Rocheteau, Liana Aghajanian, and Anne Elizabeth Moore became first time Detroiters and home owners and amazing additions to their neighborhoods and the literary community. We then turned our attention from attracting new writers to retaining a current one.
This part of the program was most obvious to those that live daily with the complications of Detroit, but more difficult for our donor-base outside the region to see. Wasn’t Detroit supposed to already be affordable? Why did we need to give to someone already here?
In retrospect, our original mission focused much more on talent attraction than the aspect of supporting low-income creatives, which I didn’t see coming until fundraising for the fourth home began. While all of our writers are incredibly talented, what you should also know is that they are also low-income, and not able to purchase housing with what they make writing poetry, fiction, and nonfiction, and they are all very dedicated to their craft.
The federal poverty line for 2017 is an income of $12,060 or less for single person. Individuals that make 200% of that amount or less are considered the working poor or near poor. These are the people that, year to year, get no closer to financial stability or wealth, but are still subjected to a world of rising costs. As their city does better all around them, they do not see a significant rise in income. In 2017, this is a single person that makes $24,120 or less, a family of two that makes $32,480 or less, or a family of three that makes $40,480 or less.
The original campaign for house four took away the aspect of “attracting new talent” present in the campaigns for the first three homes without focusing enough on how impossible it is for existing low-income Detroiters to find stable housing. This is a huge problem in our city still.
The average household income in Detroit is $25,764. We didn’t talk about this enough in the previous fundraising campaigns, and that is my fault. That number scares me and I was worried no one would want to move here if they knew how poor it was here. I felt like our role was to talk up all the amazing opportunities and downplay the possibility that the employment opportunities sucked real hard.
It’s really hard here. It’s hard to stay here. Talent retention is just as important as talent attraction and that is why we are still working to give away a home to a native Detroit poet who would otherwise be unable to afford one. We want her to have a stable-long term place to keep being a vibrant part of this literary arts community, to which she is committed to community organizing and the arts, just the sort of long-term impact our current environment needs.
In 2017 a lot more people are moving to Detroit, and they have resources to buy homes. This is great, but it is displacing the long-term residents and it is going to wipe out the existing artist community unless donors like you speak up, chip in, and offer $5, $10, $15 to say let’s keep our native arts community here, too.
We’re looking to raise $20,000 by the end of 2017. If just a thousand people give $20 each, we’re there! If you want to 100% of your money to go to us, I recommend the Pay Pal Giving Fund, which takes no fees out. There's also a button for Crowdrise below, where you can see the $4K we raised so far and chip in there with a small fee to the service.
This home won’t happen without you. A body for poetry from a committed citizen dedicated to living here won’t happen without you. Please join us, give what you can, and most importantly tell others.
— Sarah F. Cox, founder and director
I can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
The Third Home
Before renovation at left, and after in May 2016