This article is part of The Low-Rent Trap, a series about the city’s largest provider of affordable housing. Read other stories in the series here.

LaTesa Arnold has lived at the Villages at Parkside for 20 years. In that time, she’s watched her community shrink as the housing quality deteriorated and people left. Arnold herself has moved three times to different units over the years because of roofing issues, but still, she wants to stay in her community and help improve it. 

Nearly two years ago, the Detroit Housing Commission (DHC) said it would step in and help. The public housing authority owned the land Parkside sits on and bought out the private developer that owned the buildings. The DHC then let the buildings deteriorate. The commission owns thousands of other apartments and homes, and has struggled to maintain them, but it thought the dire situation at Parkside demanded its assistance. 

Parkside, however, remains unchanged in any meaningful way since the DHC bought the property in January 2022. Its buildings continue to fall apart. No plan is in place to fix it. 

The conditions are top of mind for residents, but a close second is the lack of information they have been left to navigate. They say the DHC is difficult to get in touch with, whether the issue is repairs or something larger, like whether or not the residents of Parkside will be displaced. 

“We’re in the dark with everything,” Arnold said. “We really don’t know what the plan is.”

The DHC is both a landlord and a public agency. Both of these roles require a level of transparency and responsiveness the DHC lacks. 

This lack is difficult to document. It lives on the notepads, sent email logs and phone records of tenants who don’t get a response. There is no count of the number of people who have gone to DHC offices and found nobody answering the door. Or the number of people that have tried to give public comment at board meetings but were told they needed to sign up ahead of time. 

The DHC says the agency is responsive and that tenants should contact their property manager first for repairs. Any complaints or requests sent directly to the DHC are rerouted to the right contact person to help handle their case, said senior director of 98Forward and DHC spokesperson Mark Lane.

Over the last several years, reporters at Outlier Media have spoken with dozens of DHC tenants, organizers, partners and residents of Detroit who have been frustrated or more seriously impacted by DHC’s lack of response or transparency.

For tenants like Arnold, many of their problems stem from the property manager not answering calls or making repairs. The DHC felt compelled to buy the complex from the Fourmidable Group Inc. — the property manager that let Parkside deteriorate — but allowed it to continue managing the property. Out of 276 units, 130 units are currently vacant.

CEO Sandra Henriquez told Outlier that she doesn’t know how long Fourmidable will stay on as the property manager. 

“The best resolution is to try and fix up as many of the existing units that people are living in right now,” she said.

A gutter of a two-story brick building is barely attached at the corner while the other side rests on an entryway roof.
A fallen gutter hangs in front of a townhome at The Villages at Parkside. According to residents, it’s been like that for over a year. Photo credit: Nick Hagen

‘They don’t respond’

Starreatha James lives in a home on the city’s westside owned and managed by the DHC. She has complained and reached out to the DHC multiple times, but still has mold growing on her home’s walls and a shower that hasn’t been working for five months. After Outlier’s story brought attention to her home’s conditions, James says the commission still has not shown up to make the repairs she needs. 

About 6,000 tenants live in more than 3,400 DHC units across the city, with the DHC being the sole property manager of about 1,900 of those houses and apartments. Tenants living in those units need to reach out directly to the DHC for repairs or concerns, but tenants that have spoken to Outlier have said it can often be difficult to get the agency to respond and address issues. 

Some tenants have turned to organizers to help.

Tenants at the Sheridan apartments reached out to Kea Mathis, a housing organizer at Detroit People’s Platform, to ask for help in restarting their tenants’ committee. Mathis said they’ve faced issues with trying to book a community room at the apartment complex and getting any other responses from the DHC.

“The things that they’re asking for from the Detroit Housing Commission are things that they’re supposed to have. Things that constitute a safe and quality environment,” she said. “Things like hot, clean running water, and four walls in their apartment building. They need operating elevators at all times. No flood damage.”

Severe flooding in December resulted in significant damage on the building’s first eight floors. Remediation is expected to start this week, but for nearly six months, residents were kept in the dark about repair plans. Mathis said tenants call the DHC often to ask for updates, but hardly anyone picks up to answer.

Reaching the Detroit Housing Commission (DHC)

The DHC Board of Commissioners meets monthly at ​​1301 E. Jefferson Ave. in Detroit. See 2023 meeting dates and upcoming meeting notices with instructions for joining virtually. 

People who want to leave a public comment are encouraged to call 313-202-0815 and leave a voice mail with their information no later than an hour before a meeting starts. Although those who don’t do so would still be able to make comment.

Find notes on past DHC board meetings from the Detroit Documenters

For DHC tenants, CEO Sandra Henriquez advised residents to email her at to “elevate” their requests if they don’t get a response from their property management company after three business days.

“It’s frustrating,” Mathis said. “You make the calls, you leave a detailed message with your name and number, just as instructed, and they don’t respond.”

A few residents from the Sheridan expressed these frustrations during a May 25 DHC Board of Commissioners meeting. Shannon Durant said she just moved into the apartments and has had no luck speaking with someone from the DHC about some safety concerns she has.

“Every time I call, I get no results,” she said during public comment. “What are we to do? We have these issues that need to be addressed as soon as possible.” 

Yvonne Dorris, another resident at the Sheridan, complained about the lack of work following the December flood. 

“I am one of the ones who called DHC and left a message a few weeks ago, and came down there a couple of times, and couldn’t get in the building,” Dorris said. “As of today, no one returned my call. It’s hard to get in touch with anyone at DHC, and I am very upset about it.”

Henriquez advised residents during the meeting to email her at to “elevate” their requests if they don’t get a response from their property management company after three business days.

At the meeting, the DHC voted to change the property management company at the Sheridan on July 1. Henriquez said the new company, Continental Management LLC, has a “spectacular reputation.” 

Mathis said changing management is the right thing to do in order for conditions to improve at the apartments. She said residents expect repairs to be made immediately, and will continue to contact the DHC until it happens.

Knocking on the door

In an interview with Outlier on May 5, Henriquez said residents who have had issues with the DHC’s response to repairs “haven’t been knocking on our door.”

When Mathis tried to attend a DHC Board of Commissioners’ meeting in person in March, she said no one answered the office door. She went home and missed that meeting. Since then, Mathis only joins virtually.

Joanna Underwood, a policy analyst from Councilmember Mary Waters’ office, said she was turned away when trying to attend a meeting in person in August. She later joined virtually.

DHC spokesperson Lane said an attendant monitors the office building’s front door during all public meetings and that public comments can be made in person; however, space is limited in the meeting room due to social distancing measures.

Making a public comment at DHC meetings is an opportunity for tenants to speak directly to the officials responsible for overseeing the commission’s finances and leadership. But the process for making comments is more onerous compared to other Detroit government entities from the water department to the city council. 

People who want to make a public comment are encouraged to call and leave a voice mail with their contact information no later than an hour before the meeting — which usually means by 9 a.m. 

Lane says this process is in place to “conduct an orderly fashioned comment time” at DHC meetings. He also said that those who didn’t sign up can still comment after. 

Mathis said some residents she works with are older adults who find it difficult to follow these directions and have trouble logging into Zoom.They would rather come in person to make comments. 

Reporter and Detroit Documenter Rukiya Colvin went to document DHC meetings in 2021 then began reporting about conditions at Parkside. They called the DHC uncooperative and said they were unable to directly speak with someone from the agency.

“I sent emails and called a number of staff, and never got a response,” Colvin told Outlier. “I went to their office and wasn’t even let inside, but was given a phone number to call.”

“It struck me that their way of communicating with the public is very standoffish, for whatever reason,” Colvin added.

Calls for more transparency

The DHC does not publish any of the board’s meeting minutes, meeting packets, policies or other recent updates online. It does publish meeting agendas, notices, financial audits and its annual and five-year plans

At its meetings, the DHC board doesn’t provide any documents to the public aside from the agenda.

By comparison, the Grand Rapids Housing Commission — in charge of public housing in the second largest metro area in the state after Detroit — publishes its board meeting minutes, meeting packets and policies online. 

To obtain DHC’s board meeting packets, Outlier had to make a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request. The packets range from 60 to 120 pages and include updates on its properties, development contracts, 2021 unofficial inspection scores and financial statements. 

Mathis said residents would greatly benefit from accessing more information about what the DHC is working on.

Back at the Villages at Parkside, residents are still waiting on information about when construction will begin. 

“That’s the scary part about it, because we don’t know,” Parkside resident LaTesa Arnold said. “We don’t know if they’ll come in next week and say, ‘Hey, we’re giving you guys four or five months to move.’” 

Henriquez said there aren’t any plans to move out residents, but it is a possibility once a developer comes to an agreement with the DHC. 

“We will have some internal conversations and try to figure out different pathways forward, and then we will re-engage the residents,” Henriquez said.

Arnold said she hopes residents receive more updates soon on their home’s future plans.

“It’s almost like they just put us in this position just to kind of make us feel like we have a voice, but we really don’t,” she said. “It’s like it’s a project to them, but it’s our livelihood.”

Malak (she/her) believes in local journalism that provides people with verified and comprehensive information. Her favorite places to unwind and pick up a new read are at Detroit’s bookstores and libraries.

Aaron (he/him) believes in telling true stories about real people. He doesn’t think there’s anything better than a crisp fall afternoon at the Detroit Jazz Fest.