Earlier this month, we wrote about Starreatha James and the serious issues in her home, which is owned and managed by the Detroit Housing Commission (DHC). After we reached out to the commission with questions about these problems — which include mold, flooding, carpenter ants and a broken shower — the DHC sent someone to the house to investigate. It’s been three weeks, and James said the commission still hasn’t started any work or even told her when it might.
James isn’t alone. Tenants, organizers and landlords who deal with the DHC told us the housing authority has been inaccessible, with messages frequently going unanswered. Read more about this, and why public housing in Vienna works, in this week’s issue of The Dig.
As always, thanks for reading.
>>Under whose authority? A recent eviction that turned violent in Cass Community Social Services’ Tiny Homes development left many wondering about the limits of authority for court officers and others who carry out evictions. Court officers are third-party contractors appointed by the court and overseen by the chief judge. They are allowed to carry a weapon and can use force to conduct an eviction, and yet they don’t have to file a report when this happens. Police are only called to “keep the peace when necessary,” according to Chief Judge of the 36th District Court William McConico. He said no court officers have been disciplined during his tenure and no one filed a complaint against an officer in 2022 nor 2023. Melanie Barbaza, assistant to McConico, told Outlier that complaints can be made by email, phone, regular mail or the feedback link on the court’s website. (Metro Times, Detroit Free Press)
>>Fudging the finances: Even very high rents might not support the District Detroit’s $1.5 billion construction cost, according to a report uncovered by the Detroit Free Press. Exact rent figures weren’t cited in the report by Chicago-based consulting firm SB Friedman, but are expected to be 18% to 35% above current top market rents. The report also said the developers, Olympia Development of Michigan and the Related Companies, were overly optimistic about their timelines for fully leasing the buildings. In response, the developers countered that they believe in and are investing in the project. They also said the report demonstrates the necessity of the $615 million Transformational Brownfield Plan credits they were awarded, which will be doled out over 35 years. In total, the developers are seeking $798 million in public financing, including $51.8 million to convert the Fox Theatre’s office space into a hotel. (Detroit Free Press, Detroit News)
>>Value add? The City of Detroit has been considering changing the way it taxes property to a split-rate or land value system. The idea is to tax land at a higher rate than the buildings on it to discourage speculation and encourage development. Few U.S. municipalities have tried such a tax scheme and research on its efficacy to achieve Detroit’s aims is “thin.” A few cities in Pennsylvania switched to a land value tax to minimal effect. Several academics believe Detroit is a perfect testing ground for the system because of the amount of vacant land and real estate speculation. (Outlier Media, Crain’s Detroit Business)
>>Development news quick-hitters: The Stone Soap building briefly mentioned in a recent newsletter has been demolished after development plans failed to materialize… The Roost apartment hotel in the Book Tower building is open for reservations starting June 1; the rooms are a bit pricey… Grandmont Rosedale Development Corp. is teaming up with Cinnaire to redevelop two abandoned buildings at a cost of $9.7 million and converting them into 35 affordable units. (Outlier Media, Urbanize Detroit, Detroit News, Daily Detroit on Twitter, WDIV)
Closed doors and unanswered questions at the DHC
Reporters at Outlier Media have spoken with dozens of DHC tenants, organizers, partners and residents of Detroit over the last several months and years. A common theme? The DHC’s lack of response or transparency caused a host of problems and delays in getting issues addressed.
A model for public housing
Nearly half of all Americans spend more than 30% of their income on housing. In Vienna, Austria, almost no one does this thanks to a highly subsidized and regulated housing market where 80% of Viennese residents qualify for public housing. The New York Times recently explored Vienna’s housing market in a lengthy piece examining how the city is able to effectively keep housing costs down and why the U.S. can’t. Rent at publicly owned properties in Vienna can only increase with inflation, and tenants’ contracts never expire even if their income grows. Viennese do pay more in income taxes, but that is more than offset by the wide array of housing options for people at all income levels.
We’ve been stepping up our coverage of the Detroit Housing Commission, whose public housing portfolio stands in stark contrast to Vienna’s. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development hasn’t increased funding for even basic property maintenance for decades. Instead, it is encouraging municipal authorities to find alternative sources of funding as they become less involved in exclusive ownership of housing.
Enormous political obstacles remain in the U.S. to ambitious spending on public housing, which would undoubtedly be viewed as “socialism.” It also goes against American ideals of homeownership as an essential ingredient to economic mobility. (In Vienna, 80% of the population rents.) But an alternative vision of housing is possible, if we have the will.
One Good Home
A unique neighborhood home
Who wants to tackle a unique home renovation?
A home in Dexter-Linwood that’s clearly been abandoned for some time just hit the market for $58,000. Yes, you can get homes in similar condition from the Detroit Land Bank Authority for just $1,000. But the limestone exterior, which still seems to be in good shape, isn’t something you see often outside the city’s more expensive neighborhoods.