Rapper to renovator: TikTok star Tray Little reclaiming ‘war zone’ he grew up in, one property at a time
A rapper and TikToker is returning to his rundown childhood neighborhood to bring it back to life through his “Buy the Block” campaign.
“It look like a Call of Duty war zone,” Tray Little said of the neighborhood. “But that was before I started going over there, and now I’m seeing a lot more people getting interested, and I’m seeing construction done on the houses.”
Little, 29, returned to his childhood neighborhood in Detriot’s west side a few years ago to share the news of his rapping success, but found it nearly abandoned. He missed an opportunity to purchase his former home when it was selling for $1,000 in 2020, so he decided to begin buying other property to revive the community.
“Everybody was gone,” Little said. “So I was like, ‘okay, I’m going to see if I can do something about this.’”
Little said his mother moved the family to the suburbs when he was in high school because she wanted to get him out of the neighborhood that was becoming dangerous.
“So she moved me out to have a better chance because I started getting sucked into the gang culture,” he said. “And what comes with that is people getting arrested or people dying or people not making it out, so it was one of those places that you was lucky to make it out of.”
After he lost the chance to buy the house he grew up in, Little said he was walking through the neighborhood recording videos when someone suggested he could still make a difference.
“Somebody said you should buy the rest of the houses on the block that’s abandoned, so I came up with the whole Buy the Block campaign,” he said.
“I didn’t know anything about real estate,” Little added. “I didn’t know how to buy property.”
Little began to learn about real estate, met with investors, local politicians and other developers also working in the neighborhood.
Little, who has over 1.5 million followers on TikTok, posts frequent videos about the progress of the campaign, garnering millions of views. He has purchased one house and four lots so far, but still has a lot of work to do.
“So it’s basically bare bones,” he said. “We cleaned it out and now it’s just the studs and two-by-fours and what we got to go and do is put up the drywall.”
Little said he relies on volunteers from both inside and outside the community for help cleaning up debris and trash from his properties.
“I’m seeing people from the community come out and get excited to see people actually be there to help,” he said, adding that influencers and artists from the internet have also stopped by to give a hand. “So I’m seeing the community and people that normally wouldn’t visit a neighborhood like this come together, and when they get together, it’s a lot of laugh and it’s a lot of fun and it’s a lot of bridging that gap.”
The rapper said the hardest parts about the project are raising the $250,000 in capital needed to renovate the first house and proving to people the neighborhood is worth investing in.
“When I bring investors over, they say, ‘well, it’s going to take a huge amount of investors’ or ‘it’s going to take a lot more properties to be able to bring this neighborhood back,’” he said.
“We need people to come in with millions of dollars to really help bring this back,” Little said investors told him. “This is a lot of work.’”
Little said he’s at the stage where he needs to prove himself in hopes of getting opportunities for grants and more investments.
“Once I get the quarter million dollars and renovate this house, that’ll be the credibility that I need to be taken serious to get access to more funds,” he said.
Little is currently selling Buy the Block t-shirts on his website for $100 to help raise funds.
The TikToker knows restoring homes isn’t enough to revitalize the neighborhood and said he’s already thinking about what comes afterward.
“I want people to see kids riding bikes up the street like it was when I was growing up there,” he said. “I want them to see dogs running around the yard and playgrounds, and I want them to see thriving businesses that reflect the city of Detroit.”
Little said he hopes businesses such as clothing companies and music studios move in to provide jobs in the neighborhood rather than fast food restaurants.
Training people the skills to make money is paramount to getting the neighborhood to thrive, according to Little.
“We train kids up when they’re high school and then as they get older, we bring them into these jobs,” he told Fox News. “Then they come back and feel like it’s theirs and we can give them ownership.”
“That’s what tends to keep it from going back into poverty and having businesses over there that are relevant,” Little said.
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