Homesteading Detroit


I was in Detroit recently for the Congress for New Urbanism, the Strong Towns gathering, and a Small Developers Workshop. I used Airbnb instead of the corporate hotel option while in town.


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This is what $13,000 buys you in Detroit. Well… $13,000 and four years of blood, sweat, and tears. Detroit allows people with the right attitude to substitute personal effort for money. This solid brick century old duplex is within bicycle distance of downtown and it came with the adjacent vacant lots. This young couple paid cash from savings and is homesteading in the city. They live upstairs and rent out the downstairs to visitors like me.

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When people have a spacious comfortable place to live with no rent or mortgage they have time to pursue their real interests. Gardening, woodworking, metalworking, fashion, painting…

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Instead of taking jobs that would chain them to someone else’s schedule and values the couple continuously cultivates small ventures from their home. The internet allows them to reach out to a global customer base with their Frontier Industry.

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I’ve said this before. I’ll say it again. If you’re tired of spending $1,000 a month for your share of a rented two bedroom apartment with five room mates in Brooklyn or San Francisco… do what Americans have always done. Hitch up your Conestoga wagon and head out to the territories. It’s a big country. Be a pioneer.

John Sanphillippo lives in San Francisco and blogs about urbanism, adaptation, and resilience at He's a member of the Congress for New Urbanism, films videos for, and is a regular contributor to He earns his living by buying, renovating, and renting undervalued properties in places that have good long term prospects. He is a graduate of Rutgers University.