A $500 House in Detroit: Rebuilding an Abandoned Home and An American City

A young writer’s sincere search (with his dog) for an authentic life—buying a ruined house in Detroit for $500, fixing it up nail by nail, and, in the process, participating in the grassroots rebirth of the city itself.

Detroit today is the Bushwick of 2015, the Williamsburg of the 2000s, Lower East Side of the 1980s, the Berkley of the 1960s, The Greenwich Village in the 50s. The greatest sea change in American culture since the 1960s is happening in Detroit, and it contains the seed of something brand new and revolutionary for urban areas across the United States and Western Europe. As a resident, millennial, and participant, Drew Philp provides a unique vantage point from which to document this tidal shift.

In 2008 Philp moved to Detroit and a year later, at the age of twenty-three, bought a house for an astonishing $500. Now he tells the story of how he emerged from a naïve college student to a resident and homeowner, fighting to protect, grow, and add to the city without overwriting its unique character. Philp shows us Detroit’s complicated mix of gentrification, race, and class, while he attempts to find his footing in the city, the country, and his own generation.

The rise, stagnation, collapse, and—finally—the rebirth of Detroit is a complex conversation about urbanism, industrialization, race, crime, and class. Here, Philp plumbs the deep issues of democracy, community, and the relation between those who have money, food, and security and those who have only energy, tools, time, and ingenuity. His story is a transparent look into the struggle, pain, joy, and hope of what Detroit, and by extension the American city of the twenty-first century, is going to become. This memoir is an aspirational cartography—a map towards the next American city and a brave new century.

Why Detroit Matters: Decline, Renewal and Hope in a Divided City

Pre-order from University of Chicago Press in the US here.

Drew’s Essay, Make Sure You’re Helping: Experts, Solidarity and Effective patterning with Locals, appears as chapter 14.


Drew has written two unproduced feature length screenplays on contract for Knagen Films—Machinima and Provoked— the latest with an Emmy Award winning producer. He has consulted for and doctored many other produced and greenlit scripts, including the highly regarded and multiple award winning short “Certain Essential Elements.”