As they revitalize their Detroit neighborhood, the 'Bargain Block' stars are breaking down barriers and opening up the home renovation industry
On their HGTV series Bargain Block, Keith Bynum and Evan Thomas give neglected Detroit properties new life and a second chance — the same things the neighborhood offered them when they moved there in 2017.
The fiancés have since transformed their neighborhood, brightening the area while mindfully maintaining its affordability. They’ve flipped dozens of homes, with Thomas spearheading the construction and carpentry efforts and Bynum using his creative eye to design interiors. Their friend and costar, realtor Shea Hicks-Whitfield, lists their renovated properties and helps find the perfect buyers around the area.
Detroit has paid them back in kind.
The couple — who have been together for 10 years and engaged for five — moved to Michigan after learning of widespread revitalization efforts and found something even better: a community that welcomed them for who they are.
Bynum was specifically searching for the kind of acceptance and community he didn’t have back home in Texas, where he tells PEOPLE he'd endured years of homophobia in his personal and professional life.
“My family went sideways when I came out…I love the South, but family dynamic in the South is different,” Bynum shares. “I was looking to rebuild and [Detroit] was the perfect place to come and do that…It's the kindest place I've ever lived, contrary to its reputation.”
Throughout the years, the co-founders of NINE Design + Homes share, the construction industry and the LGBTQ+ community haven't always felt compatible.
Thomas – who also has a PhD in Physics – didn’t start working in the home development field until he met Bynum, but the native Texan has years of experience working in the construction world that didn’t always accept him.
“There was a lot of nasty talk against the LGBTQ community,” Bynum recalls of his time working as a foreman on projects in Texas. Although the hateful comments weren’t necessarily directed at him, he says the intolerance ultimately became the catalyst for his departure from the company. Bynum wasn’t, however, giving up on the industry.
“That was the number one thing I said when I left there,” Bynum recalls. “I was like, ‘One day I'm going to have a place and it will not matter. It will not matter what you are or who you are, nobody is going to feel like crap. That's not fair.’”
Bynum has realized that dream in front of a national audience, and he and Thomas are using their platform to continue breaking down barriers.
“I think anybody that takes a step into a world that maybe stereotypically doesn't belong to them, there's going to be some eyebrows raised. There's going to be some attention,” Bynum tells PEOPLE. “But I think the key to what we've tried to do is make sure that it's for all the right reasons. It's all the positive elements that we can get across. We tried to do our best in making sure that what we are conveying on the show is as authentic as we can be.”
With a few seasons of Bargain Block under their belt, Bynum and Thomas have become local celebrities in Detroit. The team of two says they’re often recognized around the neighborhood, receiving random hugs from neighbors, encouraging thumbs up and enthusiastic car honks. “There's just been a lot of support. It’s been amazing,” says Bynum. “We've felt a lot of love.”
As their renovation projects have grown, the HGTV stars recruited a number of Detroit-based contractors to aid in their efforts. Like their neighbors, Bynum and Thomas say their growing team has been consistently kind, which they see as a reflection of the city’s attitude overall.
“You wouldn't really go up to another person and tell them how they need to live. That's not really something that is a Detroit thing,” Thomas explains.
On the latest installment of Bargain Block, the pair are leaning into authenticity more than ever before, especially in their representation of the city.
“Detroit really plays a much bigger character in this season,” Bynum notes. “We get to dive in more to Detroit and its amazing art and its music and it's food — all the things that make Detroit so cool.”
Season 3 of Bargain Block premieres on Wednesday, August 23 at 9 p.m. ET on HGTV.
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