Detroit has a severe shortage of affordable housing — the city is 20,000 more units shy of having enough places for Detroiters to live with less expense. In downtown alone, the city’s affordable housing map lists just eight buildings offering some affordable units.

The city and state rarely build affordable housing themselves. Instead, they use other methods, like giving developers incentives to include affordable housing in their projects. 

District Detroit’s developers have received lots of these incentives. 

Olympia Development of Michigan and Related Cos. are getting nearly $800 million in public financing for this phase of District Detroit. Detroiters want to see the developers deliver on affordable housing promises to make those subsidies go down easier. 

The $1.5 billion project spread out over several blocks downtown will create new buildings and renovate historic ones, add more than 1.2 million square feet of office space, 146,000 square feet of retail space and 467 hotel rooms. 

So where does the project stand now when it comes to places for Detroiters to live? Here’s everything you need to know. 

Two bar graphs titled “Housing planned for District Detroit” which give the following data: Market-rate apartments (556 total). Affordable apartments (139 total) (reserved for people making 50% or less than of the area median income for the metropolitan area, or $35,800 for a two-person household). 2250 Woodward: 287 apartments, 58 affordable. 2205 Cass: 261 apartments, 54 affordable. 408 Temple: 131 apartments, 27 affordable. 2210 Park: 16 apartments, 0 affordable. 2305 Woodward: office, retail, no housing. 2200 Woodward: office, retail, no housing. 2445 Woodward: hotel, retail, no housing. 2211 Woodward: hotel, retail, no housing. 2300 Woodward: office, retail, no housing. 2115 Cass: office, retail, no housing. The graph bars are depicted as buildings. Under both graphs, it reads, “Graphic: Outlier Media. Data: City of Detroit, District Detroit.”

How much housing will there be in District Detroit?

Of the 10 buildings being developed in District Detroit, four will have apartments, adding 695 rental units to downtown. All of these buildings will also include retail on the ground floor.

2250 Woodward Ave. This 20-story building next to Comerica Park will cost $217 million and create 287 apartments.

2205 Cass Ave. will be an 18-story building on the campus of the planned University of Michigan Center for Innovation. It’s expected to cost $148 million and add 261 apartments.

408 Temple St., the former Hotel Fort Wayne, will become an 11-story apartment building at a cost of $69 million. It will have 131 apartments.

2210 Park Ave., the former Detroit Life Building, will be redeveloped into a 10-story apartment building for $24 million. Its 16 units will be bigger than the other buildings’ apartments.

Across the four buildings there will be a range of apartment sizes from studios all the way up to three-bedroom units. Here’s the breakdown. 

  • 182 studios
  • 331 one-bedroom units
  • 180 two-bedroom units
  • 2 three-bedroom units

How many of the apartments will be affordable?

An affordable apartment is generally defined as having rent that doesn’t exceed 30% of one’s income. Rent has to be pretty low to be affordable to many people in Detroit, where the median household income is less than $35,000. 

Thanks to a $23.7 million loan provided by the Downtown Development Authority (DDA), people making right around the median income should be able to afford the apartments in District Detroit. The forgivable loan is the first in a new DDA program that requires developers to set aside 20% of all their rental units as affordable for the next 30 years. 

As a condition of District Detroit’s loan, 139 units will be reserved for people making 50% or less of the area median income — no more than $31,350 for a one-person household, $35,800 for two people, $40,300 for three people and $44,750 for four. 

The loan agreement requires the units to be spread out evenly between all the buildings except the Detroit Life Building. Affordable housing renters must have equal access to apartments of all sizes in District Detroit.

The community benefits agreement (CBA) signed between developers and representatives of a local residents’ council also means Detroiters will be able to use Section 8 vouchers for some District Detroit apartments.

It’s possible the development will have even more affordable units. The developers said in their Transformational Brownfield Plan they would seek incentives from the federal Low-Income Housing Tax Credit program, which helps fund affordable housing projects. 

A representative from Olympia did not confirm whether the developers were looking to get these tax credits or if it meant they would add more affordable apartments. 

When will Detroiters be able to get into this housing?

The developers expect the Detroit Life Building will be the first completed residential building in late 2025. It won’t have any affordable apartments. 

The others are projected to open between 2026 and 2028.

Are there other benefits for renters?

Once there are people living in affordable units, the community benefits agreement will give them the “right to renew.” This right, a major legislative priority for local housing activists, allows tenants to renew their lease for another year as long as they haven’t violated their lease. 

The CBA also requires the developers to provide these tenants with a parking space at a 50% discount. 

Who’s going to enforce all this?

The Detroit Economic Growth Corp. will monitor affordable housing in District Detroit. The details are still not worked out, but will likely require the developers to submit information about renters that includes their income. 

The city’s Civil Rights, Inclusion & Opportunity Department monitors all community benefits agreements. It will file regular reports on whether or not the developers are complying with the agreement around accepting Section 8 vouchers, parking discounts and renters’ ability to renew their leases. If they’re in violation, City Council can hold a hearing and determine enforcement. 

Anything else?

City Council successfully negotiated for Olympia and Related to donate $3.5 million over the next 10 years to the Detroit Affordable Housing Development and Preservation Fund, which helps create and preserve affordable housing in other parts of the city. 

It’s hard to know exactly how many affordable units this will create or preserve.

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.