Hey everyone,

We consistently hear from Detroiters — by email, through TXT OUTLIER, commenting at public meetings — that the city needs more affordable housing. 

Over the next month, we’ll be taking a closer look at the city’s largest provider of affordable housing — the Detroit Housing Commission (DHC). We’ll explore how the DHC performs its main task of providing safe, affordable housing to Detroiters. We’ll examine its accessibility to the public, the condition of the properties it owns and its management of the housing voucher program. 

We’re kicking off this series with an explainer about the commission, answering important questions about how it operates. Stay tuned for more each week in May.

As always, thanks for reading.

The Dirt

»One-year reprieve: The Wayne County Treasurer’s Office announced it won’t proceed with tax foreclosures of any owner-occupied residential properties this year. The county said about 3,400 homes would have fallen into this group and been subject to foreclosure. The decision only protects people who live in a home they own and receive a principal residence exemption. These homeowners are still responsible for paying their property taxes. Anyone delinquent on their property taxes can get support through the Michigan Homeowners Assistance Fund (known as MIHAF), which provides grants up to $25,000 for taxes and other expenses. (Detroit Free Press, State of Michigan)

»Representation works: The $12 million Detroit Eviction Defense Fund, created by the Gilbert Family Foundation to provide low-income families with legal representation in eviction cases, assisted 6,453 households from June to December last year. The fund, which focuses on families with children, surpassed its goal of providing 6,000 households with legal assistance in its first year. The foundation said less than 5% of eviction cases it supported resulted in an eviction. The fund is meant to supplement the city’s Office of Eviction Defense, which launched in March after missing a deadline to open in October 2022. The office got a boost in funding this fiscal year, but activists worry that there still isn’t a long-term funding plan. (BridgeDetroit)

»Development news roundup: A lot happened in the development world this week. Here’s a recap:

  • District Detroit developers cleared the last hurdle for the project’s $615 million Transformational Brownfield Plan after it received approval from the Michigan Strategic Fund board last week. A development official at the meeting noted that there was no way to claw back the money if the developers — the Ilitch family’s Olympia Development of Michigan and Stephen Ross’ Related Cos. — didn’t achieve their job-creation goals and that there wouldn’t even be long-term monitoring of jobs. The developers expect to break ground this summer on the first of 10 buildings. (Detroit Free Press)
  • The Sterling Group released new details about its high-rise apartment building on the site of the former Joe Louis Arena, now called The Residences at Water Square. The 25-story building with a glass exterior will have 496 apartments, most of which are studio and one-bedroom units — except for the two-bedroom penthouses. All will rent at market rates. (Crain’s Detroit Business, Detroit News)
  • Michigan State University has invested in the $38.2 million redevelopment of the old Studebaker building in Milwaukee Junction, which developer the Platform is converting into a 161-unit apartment building called Piquette Flats. The university didn’t say how much it’s spending on the project, which is expected to finish next year. In February, it announced a partnership with billionaire Tom Gores on a $2.5 billion hospital campus nearby for Henry Ford Health. (Crain’s Detroit Business, Urbanize Detroit)
  • The Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy approved $2.1 million in brownfield funding to clean up the site of the future City Club Apartments Midtown. A soil assessment revealed the presence of chemical pollutants like mercury and arsenic due to industrial uses on the now-vacant site. The mixed-use project, which will have 344 apartments and a Target store, is expected to open in 2024. (Detroit News)

»Sluggish growth: Median home prices in Michigan went up 10% over the last year, but the state still dropped three spots to 48th in U.S. home values. Michigan’s median home listing price of $267,000 is above only Ohio and West Virginia. Market experts blamed the stagnant population for the slow growth in prices — states with plateaued or declining populations have shown less increase in property values. (Bridge Michigan)

Dig Deeper

City to property owners: No more blight

Crain’s Detroit Business reported that the City of Detroit has filed yet another blight lawsuit against a negligent property owner. 

This time, the city is suing Michael Higgins and his affiliates over poor conditions and improper use at the Leland Hotel at 400 Bagley St. The complaint alleges several problems: only one working elevator; units and hallways without smoke detectors; no heat in common areas; and standing water in the basement. It’s also operating as an apartment building with 60 tenants even though it’s only permitted as a hotel. 

Higgins announced a $120 million renovation of the historic hotel five years ago, but major work on the project hasn’t begun. 

The city has started to take more action against owners who don’t take care of their buildings. The latest blight lawsuit is one of a litany filed by the city since 2021, when it sought to compel former Packard Plant owner Fernando Palenzuela in court to pay for demolition of the massive complex. In just the last few months, it’s filed nuisance lawsuits against owners of the Perfecting Church at Woodward and 7 Mile, the owner of a concrete crushing facility in Core City and Dennis Kefallinos for four of his abandoned properties

Why has the city been more aggressive toward these owners of late? The city’s Corporation Counsel, Conrad Mallett, told Outlier the city has been taking advantage of American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds to pursue these cases.

“Since the early days of the Duggan administration the law department has been active,” Mallett said by email. “What has changed is the available ARPA funding allowing the City to hire attorneys specifically dedicated to helping eradicate blight through the court system.”

Dig This

The Detroit Housing Commission, explained

Two-story townhouses with brick and white vinyl siding are surrounded by black metal fencing, footpaths and green lawns covered in dandelions.
Homes at the Diggs, a low-income development owned by the Detroit Housing Commission. Photo credit: Nick Hagen

Detroiters regularly plead with the city to compel major developers to build more affordable housing. But the Detroit Housing Commission, the largest provider of affordable housing in the city, has gotten relatively little scrutiny. 

Nearly 10,000 Detroit households rent in units owned by the DHC or use vouchers it provides to subsidize their rent in other homes or apartments.

Here are some of the most important facts about one of the city’s largest landlords.

Coming Down

Boblo no more

Large industrial concrete building by a body of water with blue-and-yellow painted signage that reads, “Boblo Island, Detroit Dock.” The building, which looks disused, has a chimney and a water tower on the roof.
View of the Detroit Harbor Terminal Building from the Detroit River. Photo credit: Notorious4life

The Detroit Harbor Terminal Building, also known as the Boblo Building, is being demolished. The 10-story, 900,000-square-foot structure on the Detroit River off West Jefferson Avenue is recognizable for its “Boblo Island” advertisement. 

The Albert Kahn-designed building opened in 1926 and was an important upgrade to Detroit’s commercial docking potential, which one report described as “the worst accommodated harbor on the Great Lakes.” Operators of Boblo Island moved their moorings to the building in the late 1980s. But the amusement park would cease operations only a few years later, exacerbating financial struggles for the harbor building. It was eventually abandoned in 2003.

Today, it’s owned by the Detroit Wayne County Port Authority. The demolition will pave the way for an ownership transfer to the Moroun family and termination of an agreement between the two parties that allows the Morouns to profit off port facilities owned by the authority. 

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.