Being young and living in and around the D can offer much in the way of options for housing. Whether you’re high styling it in a lux-downtown high-rise, getting gritty with a spacious loft conversation, or attempting to hold on to those fleeting college days as "that guy" squatting in a campus frat, nobody here judges where you choose to go to lay your head and play with your toys. We’re all pioneers together in this wild-west of a down-turned state. Rents are cheap and the fact that our population hasn’t been moving in the right direction over the past few decades has all but guaranteed a housing stock as diverse as its residents. That’s not to say that perfect place is always easy to find for the young and credit-risky. Some places are expensive and not every community is hip yet to just what it is we may be looking for.
I know when I first graduated out of Michigan I was faced with the daunting, expensive, and nerve-wracking task of trying to find that perfect Ann Arbor living arrangement. I wanted a home that spoke to my new lifestyle, not as a student at the U, but as a townie in the ‘Deuce’. I no longer wanted to share a dilapidated house with six dudes and a sticky ping-pong table, nor did I want to hovel it alone in a non-descript one bedroom near TGIFridays.
I searched far and wide in my price range and only came up with places where "furnished" meant mantel displays of Absolute bottles soaking highlighters or places where the recently arrived, divorced, or foreclosed go to make loud noises in the night and cook curry. Dejected and emasculated by my failure to seek shelter, I moved back in with my mother and for the first time realized that this whole 'being an adult' thing wasn’t all that was promised at Commencement.
Fast forward eighteen months and I stumbled upon my dream home through my commercial real estate ramblings in downtown Ann Arbor. The Maison de Liberte, as it would come to be called, is a two-story, 4,000 square foot, Wayne Manor of a loft, perched majestically above an antique bookstore and its own two car attached garage. Built in 1888 as a residence for Ann Arbor’s first professional portrait photographer, it still boasts such bizarre Victorian accoutrements as a ballroom, a game parlor, valet quarters, and crotch-high doorknobs on 12’ high doors (people were apparently shorter back then). With no savings and a job with anything but guaranteed income, I quickly signed a lease and moved the few dishes I could pilfer from my mother’s into my new hardwood kitchen cabinets.
For the first six months in my new place I slept in a sleeping bag and ate my meals cross-legged on the floor, but I still couldn’t help but think about my friends, the chumps, who moved to New York so they could go broke living three deep in a one room studio walk-up in Alphabet City.
And that’s what we have here in Metro Detroit; lots of incredible architecture and depressed real estate prices. It touches on one of the main advantages to living in Michigan as it goes through this transitional time. I’m four odd years now at my home on Liberty Street. While I’ve since bought a bed, a table, and taken on a roommate with a obsessive, and heavy, vinyl collection, it will still take us years to fill the space we have. Our rent is affordable at a fraction of the 1/3 yearly income they say you should spend (closer to ½ income is apparently justifiable in NYC).
Our downtown neighborhood is chockfull of galleries, theaters, restaurants and bars within stumbling distance to our front door. Even our parents and their friends seem to enjoy visiting our apartment more then they like burbing it up in their burbs. But above all that, barely out of school and just starting lives of hopeful promise, my roommate and I are fortunate to have not just a place to crash but to truly have a home.
Living in Detroit today offers our generation the opportunity to start out strong and start out young. Batman can’t fight crime without his cave, and the Hef’s social life would be severely cramped without the Grotto. Why then do so many people flee to bigger cities with expectation of conquering the world while being unable to afford a base of operations better than most European hostels?
It pays to stay here, in so many different ways. Affordable, unique housing is just one of the sharp tools that this region places in the hands of its youth in hopes that they scratch their names deep into the uncertain surface of our future. Next time we will discuss what else we have in our tool belt when it comes to the idea of business and working as a young gun still here.