Tag Archives: Airbnb

The Detroit Homestead

Three indications this isn’t a hotel: 1. There’s a gleaming, lovingly restored BSA motorbike in pride of place in the living room; 2. The hosts are cooking, music’s playing, friends are coming round, and we’re invited to join them for dinner; 3. Dave is given a bike and directions to a liquor store, and pedals off into the dark (the other guest, Nick, in town for an interview at med school tomorrow) jogs in front to show him the way.

The two vibrant, nicely-lit guest rooms share a bathroom and guests have access to the kitchen, and the run of the ground floor. The owners, Alyssa and Matt, bought the central Virginia Park neighbourhood property (close to Wayne State University, Henry Ford Hospital, and Detroit’s New Center) for $13,000 in September. Yes, $13,000 – although they’ve invested cash and a huge effort into redoing all the hardwood floors, restoring it . . . and in record time. They occupy the top half. There’s talk of converting the attic space, and work is underway on a bunk room.

Like several properties in the area, the homestead, an example of what can be done, is now a bit of an anomaly in its street. To the uninitiated, the surroundings are hard to compute; not exactly shocking but baffling. Empty lots, boarded up houses, collapsing houses, burnt-out houses, entire abandoned streets. But we arrived in the dark, enjoyed the best hospitality with a group of people whose intelligent optimism and enthusiasm was illuminating, and by the time we stepped out in the morning to explore Detroit, we were seeing it more in terms of the exciting potential than its problematic past, okay, present.

Good company, comfortable bed and one of a handful of special places offering a fantastic opportunity to learn about Detroit rather than skim over its surface.

Detroit Homestead bookings; Coming soon: Conversations with Detroit locals about life in the city. Check back!

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Where to stay in Detroit?

Timely time to visit Detroit given Mitt Romney’s ‘Let Detroit Go Bankrupt’ infamous op-ed. The appeal of Detroit is, however, its DIY revival; the slow but steady emergence of independent bars, clubs, arts, restaurants, greening and community projects. If you stay at the MGM Grand or the MotorCity Casino it’s going to take longer to get orientated and find the gems in the rough. But alternative accommodation is hard to find and pretty much unmapped, and, if you are completely ignorant about Detroit, like me, it’s hard to know where to start a hotel / B&B hunt.

There’s a lot of information online that’s detailed, helpful . . . and off-putting. One person posting on where to stay in the city on the Lonely Planet Travel Forum recommends Downtown, adding it’s “probably the safest place in Detroit, it’s generally safe during the day, but I wouldn’t attempt it at night.” Cityboy2010 goes on to say:
“As far as safety and security, it’s sad to say that all of Detroit (with the exception of Downtown and the adjacent areas of Greektown, Corktown, and Mexicantown) is likely to be very dangerous . . . it should be said that most residential areas in Detroit are extremely dangerous. Be very vigilant, and don’t carry anything of value around. There are a few pretty safe neighborhoods, but these are in the minority, unfortunately. The following are, based on my experience as well as Detroit crime stats, the worst areas in the city that I avoid at all times, even in the day:

  • Anything from Coleman A. Young Airport, all the way to the northeast city limits.
  • Highland Park (probably worse than Detroit, it’s an independent city surrounded by Detroit)
  • The area within a 30-block radius or so from the Joy Road and Evergreen St intersection
  • Most places right off the freeways.
  • Where the Davison and Lodge Freeway meet.

Of course these aren’t the only bad areas, those are just the ones that you shouldn’t go into at all because of their high violent crime and homicide rate.”
Fair enough. It all sounds very complicated. And as there aren’t any small hotels embracing the designer ethic and emblazoned with vibrant local art anyway, the best course of action is to track down someone who lives in the city, knows it well and loves it, and stay with them. Travel blogger, Meghan McEwen, offers two chic rooms across from the abandoned Michigan Central Station at Honor & Folly in Corktown ($165). Further north, Nathan Andren offers super-affordable rooms and a wealth of knowledge about his native Detroit at the Detroit Loves You Guesthouse (bookable through Airbnb from $39 to $199 for the whole property), and a few blocks away there’s two rooms available at the Detroit Homestead (also through Airbnb). These last two properties aren’t in neighbourhoods generally regarded as ‘good’, but neither are they ‘bad’. They’ve been down, and now the majority of local residents are working hard to bring them up.

Having spent many idle moments when I was supposed to be working, trawling through Detroit property listings, dreaming about buying a couple of houses for a couple of thousand dollars, relocating and spending the rest of my life doodling and doing good works, it was the fact that the Homestead owners, Alyssa and Matt, were  new arrivals from Pittsburgh, that swung it for me. They’d fallen in love with the city during the course of long bike-riding visits, made loads of friends and chucked in their jobs to ‘engage in Detroit’s renaissance’, buying and renovating a property and opening it to guests to recoup their investment. They were now full of dreams and plans ranging from raising ducks, emu and pygmy goats, to running a bike rental and repair business, and offering facilities for aquaponics, music and  beer and cheese making. I like this enthusiasm!

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