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Bridge Michigan
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I was given a house – but it already belonged to a Detroit family

This story is published in partnership with The Guardian and Economic Hardship Reporting Project

Miraculously, Tomeka Langford is willing to talk to me.

The 47-year-old Black woman is a long-standing Detroiter. A career pharm tech with four kids and six grandkids, her family has lived in the city ever since her grandparents came up from the south.

I am white, single and childless. In 2016, I was given a house by Write a House, a short-lived Detroit-based organization founded in 2011 to award homes to low-income scribes. The gift was meant to support writers with some of the city’s plentiful housing stock – and thus change the stories that get told about Detroit.

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It was, on paper, a great idea. But the house I was given already belonged to someone: Tomeka Langford.

I didn’t know it at the time. Neither did Tomeka.

I settled into the adorable house, which sits in a cheerful neighborhood dubbed BanglaTown, after the area’s majority-Bangladeshi community. But the organization started to crumble once I moved in, and soon the roof of the house did, too – needing immediate replacement.

After the roof was replaced, I realized I was now living in a surprisingly expensive free house, trying to fulfill the mission of an organization that no longer existed. It was frustrating and unsustainable.

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