Mayor Mike Duggan is trying to address speculation by punishing people who sit on vacant land or buildings with higher taxes. Meanwhile, speculation upstream goes unpunished.

The Wayne County Treasurer’s Office does little or nothing to prevent people with unpaid taxes and blight tickets from scooping up property at its annual auction, despite this being a clear violation of its own rules. We looked at bidder and deed records for last year’s auction and found two notorious names you may recognize. 

There are also a couple of noteworthy cases of small neighborhood organizations going up against bigger investors in Highland Park and NW Goldberg. Meanwhile, the District Detroit’s groundbreaking is likely to be held up for another month over negotiations with that mysterious authority Outlier Media shone some light on last week. 

As always, thanks for reading.

The Dirt

>>Giving ground? Developers for District Detroit are negotiating with the little-known Detroit/Wayne County Stadium Authority, as it owns several parcels needed for the project to begin construction. Wayne County selected a negotiator to come to an agreement with Olympia Development of Michigan and Related Companies on the sale price for the properties, two of which are parking lots next to Comerica Park. The property was valued at $35.3 million in an appraisal last month. None of the parties revealed a timetable for negotiations, even though the project was supposed to break ground in July. Any agreement would have to be approved by the stadium authority, which hasn’t met the last three months. Its next meeting on Thursday might also get canceled. (Detroit Free Press, Outlier Media)

>>Farmers 🤝 City: Mayor Mike Duggan announced that urban farms and community gardens would be exempt from property tax increases as a result of the tax reform he’s been pursuing. If implemented, the proposed land value tax would raise property taxes on vacant land. Side-lot owners would only see an average increase of $30. The legislation is expected to head to the Michigan Legislature this week. The city is also planning to hire a director of urban agriculture to support farming initiatives. (Metro Times, Detroit Free Press, BridgeDetroit)

>>Meanwhile, at a community garden in Highland Park…: A small neighborhood group has been in a dispute over a vacant lot with an out-of-town investor. The nonprofit Avalon Village, which has been steadily fixing up vacant properties on Avalon Street and providing services like a marketplace and after-school center, has been farming on a city-owned lot for over a year and giving away the produce. The lot was formerly overgrown with weeds. Premier Michigan Properties (PMP) wanted to buy the lot to convert it to a yard for an adjacent house it’s owned since 2017. The house is still not renovated and has boarded up windows. Avalon Village has also been mowing the home’s front lawn. Highland Park City Council voted last night against selling the lot to PMP. (Detroit Free Press, Detroit Documenters)

>>Neighborhood vs. developer, pt. 2: NW Goldberg is seeing a modest amount of home sales for the first time in years — but the neighborhood’s biggest real estate owner, Henry Ford Health, might not be pulling its weight. The nonprofit NW Goldberg Cares and a developer has fixed up homes that are selling for more than $200,000. The community development organization’s director, Daniel Washington, says that the hospital, which owns dozens of parcels in and around the neighborhood, has deterred investment and “depressed the area” by sitting on property. The hospital says it’s engaging with businesses and neighborhood groups about how it can help build up the neighborhood, and it cited a handful of initiatives it’s already taken. It’s planning a $2.5 billion expansion of its campus with Michigan State University and Pistons owner Tom Gores. (Crain’s Detroit Business, Urbanize Detroit)

>>Development news quick-hitters: Negotiations on community benefits should begin soon for the next big developments in Detroit. That includes a hotel next to Huntington Place and the aforementioned expansion of Henry Ford Health’s campus… The Board of Zoning Appeals approved a number of zoning variances to the North End Landing development. Residents spoke in opposition of the project, saying a lack of parking would create issues in the neighborhood… Developers for the Fisher Body plant’s redevelopment said they hope to begin construction on the long-vacant factory next year. The project was announced in March 2022. (Crain’s Detroit Business, Outlier, Axios Detroit)

Black infant with pink headband and striped shirt stares while being held in a woman’s arms
Photo credit: Jeremiah Brown for W.K. Kellogg Foundation

Birth Detroit addresses Black infant mortality rate

Nearly 1,000 women die each year in the United States while in childbirth or during their pregnancies, according to the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Of this group, Black mothers are four and a half times more likely to die than their white counterparts, and Detroit’s maternal death rate is three times the national average. It is with these tragic realizations that the mission of Detroit-based doula-based company, Birth Detroit, has successfully started to build the state’s first birthing center. ➡️ Keep reading

Content produced in partnership with the W.K. Kellogg Foundation. #ad

Dig This

Speculators face no penalties for violating county’s auction rules

Two-story brick home with white vinyl siding on the dormer windows. Two overgrown bushes obscure much of the first floor.
One of 325 properties bought by Salameh Jaser at the 2022 Wayne County tax auction. Photo credit: Aaron Mondry

Wayne County requires bidders on properties at the annual tax auction to sign an affidavit promising they aren’t delinquent on taxes or have unpaid civil fines. 

The county’s system is far from airtight. An analysis from Outlier found that Dennis Kefallinos and Salameh Jaser, two Detroit property owners with a history of blight violations and delinquent taxes, spent hundreds of thousands of dollars at last year’s auction.

Hang out with Outlier! RSVP and join us for coffee on Sept. 14. And join The Outlier Collective, our new membership program, to build deeper connections with your community!

One Good Building

Save this Yamasaki!

Facebook post reads, “Currently up for tax auction. Reynolds Aluminum Building. 16000 Northland Dr. City of Southfield, MI. Designed by Yamasaki, Leiweber & Hellmuth.” The post has photos of a building with an open first floor made of glass and two higher floors covered by golden, interlocking rings.
The Reynolds Aluminum Building in Southfield is for sale. Image credit: Screenshot of post by Matthew Krajenke via Historical Area Detroit Architecture

We learned that one of the coolest buildings — anywhere — may be sold at a tax auction.

The Reynolds Metals Co. building in Southfield is a stunning work of midcentury architecture designed by the great Minoru Yamasaki. The building’s distinct feature is a screen made of interlocking aluminum rings covering the top two stories. Combined with the skylight in the lobby, it probably makes for some fascinating shadow effects during the day. A reflecting pool fully wraps around the building. 

The building opened in 1959 as a Reynolds sales office, which operated until 1984. A series of fitness centers then owned the building before closing in 2012 or 2013, according to Detroiturbex. It’s been on the market multiple times over the years and has now been put up for auction by Oakland County. See photos of the amazing building.

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.