The head of the Detroit Housing Commission (DHC), Sandra Henriquez, told us six months ago that she would turn around her agency’s poor performance by the end of the year. At the time, the DHC had been failing inspections, couldn’t manage its voucher programs and was severely understaffed.
Have things improved? The short answer is no, but it’s worth diving into why in our latest piece on the DHC’s latest performance and what those who oversee the DHC are (or aren’t) doing.
In development news this week, the Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) could be changing the design of the boulevard to replace I-375 after it received widespread criticism. Elsewhere, troubles mount for local development firm The Platform and the city begins work on a new $160 million bus terminal.
Mayor Mike Duggan was also in the news — turns out his proposed Land Value Tax Plan has made him a folk hero among a niche group of economists. Last week, we wrote about a map of the tax plan’s potential effects; the mayor has claimed that 97% of homeowners would see a reduction in taxes if the plan went into effect. The city wanted us to add that no owner-occupied homes would receive an increase under the legislation, and we’re happy to pass along that piece of info.
We’re also curious: What do you think of Duggan’s tax plan? It seems there’s a not-insignificant number of residents and lawmakers skeptical of the plan to raise property taxes on land and reduce it for buildings. If you’re against it, what are your concerns? If you’re for it, what do you think it will do for the city? Let us know by replying to this newsletter.
As always, thanks for reading.
>>Redesigning the redesign: MDOT said in a statement last week that it would “modify its approach” regarding the design of the boulevard to replace I-375 after it received widespread criticism from residents, stakeholders and elected officials. Dozens of residents expressed disappointment with the project’s engagement process and design at a community meeting last week, saying the boulevard would be too wide, the process isn’t transparent and that the plan wouldn’t do enough to address the harms to Black residents when the highway was constructed. Some even called for the entire process to start over. MDOT’s statement doesn’t say how the design could be altered, only that it will take into account a traffic study that’s underway and delay further meetings until early 2024. (MDOT via Jena Brooker, Outlier, BridgeDetroit)
>>Shaky platform: Local development firm The Platform is scaling back on projects as it faces some financial difficulties. The firm, which co-owns the Fisher Building, recently canceled two developments and put four of its properties up for sale. The four properties include a former Big Boy that was controversially demolished in 2017, the unrealized Baltimore Station 2 site, land near Riverfront Towers and a 4.34-acre site at Gratiot Avenue and St. Aubin Street. The Platform said in a statement that the company decided to focus on its “core assets.” The news is part of a larger trend of the firm unloading property, including the Lakeshore Global building plus nearby land, and a major stake in the Fisher Building to Michigan State University’s endowment fund. The sell-off may be motivated in part by one of the firm’s largest tenants, WeWork, filing for bankruptcy. The coworking company owes The Platform more than $5.1 million, making the Detroit company one of its largest creditors. (Crain’s Detroit Business, Detroit News)
>>Nerds love Duggan: Mayor Mike Duggan has become a hero to adherents of a niche economic philosophy that believes a single tax on land could fix most of society’s woes. They’re called Georgists — named after the 1800s economist Henry George — and they’re exhilarated that Duggan is pushing for Detroit to be the first city of any significant size to adopt a land-value tax. Some economists are strongly in favor of the tax because it encourages development, doesn’t discourage working unlike income tax and is difficult to avoid. The movement was popular during George’s time, then faded for decades until once again coming to prominence in recent years alongside the rise of YIMBY (Yes In My Backyard) proponents. Duggan had no idea he’d become an icon of the faction, telling a reporter, “This isn’t any deep philosophical movement. I’m trying to cut taxes.” It’s nice he’s willing to make himself available for national publications — we just wish he’d do the same for local media more often. (New York Times)
>>Development news quick-hitters: The Historic District Commission approved demolition of a building in Jefferson Chalmers to make way for a parking lot that will be part of a $45 million performing arts center. The approval came despite concerns from commission staff about lack of community engagement and stormwater mitigation… The City of Detroit began the $10 million demolition of a defunct westside bus terminal to make way for a $150 million, three-building complex that will house maintenance, bus storage and administration for the Detroit Department of Transportation. It’s expected to be completed by 2026… Developer Richard Hosey celebrated the opening of a new 36-unit development on Willis Street in Midtown. Nine of the units will rent for 80% of the area median income… More than 300 renters have been approved for Detroit’s Downpayment Assistance Program as of Nov. 2, receiving up to $25,000 toward a down payment and other closing costs. So far, 241 have closed on a home and the city expects 480 will make use of the $8 million pot of funding. (Metro Times, Detroit Free Press, WXYZ, BridgeDetroit, Outlier Media)
Note: At the demolition of the former bus terminal, Duggan said, “We have the talent, the management, the operators and the mechanics to run a first-class system.” Reporting from Outlier found that Detroit is around 130 bus drivers short of what it needs to operate at full capacity.
“Nosediving for three years”
Back in May, Detroit Housing Commission CEO Sandra Henriquez acknowledged many of the issues outlined by Outlier Media’s investigative series on the DHC. At the time, she was confident she could turn around the commission by the end of the year.
“I want to see how much we can accomplish in the next six or seven months moving forward,” she told Outlier then.
But the situation at the commission has remained almost unchanged in the six months since Henriquez made her pledge. Its vacancy rate is still well above federal standards, hundreds of vouchers continue to go unused, and staffing problems persist.
Join The Outlier Collective on Dec. 7 at Spot Lite for our first member happy hour event! We’ll be celebrating a year of community building and fostering connections. Swing by for free drinks & light refreshments from 5:30-8 p.m. Tell your friends! Sign up on Eventbrite!
One Good Building
Historic Music Hall getting $122 million expansion
The Motown Museum isn’t the only one of Detroit’s historic music attractions getting a major expansion. Last month, the Music Hall Center for the Performing Arts announced plans for a new $122 million complex that will sit adjacent to its downtown building. The 108,000-square-foot expansion will be built on the hall’s current parking lot and have an additional concert venue, a music academy, restaurant and more.
The Music Hall sits in the Madison-Harmonie Historic District which requires the city’s Historic District Commission to approve development plans. The commission approved most of the proposal at its meeting in September, but requested a redesign for some exterior features and will come back for a vote at a later date.
Staff for the commission prepared a report detailing the history of the building and how designs for the new construction fit into the overall architectural character of the district. The new building is modern in its aesthetic, but the report is positive overall in its assessment.
The hall was originally called the Wilson Theater when it opened in 1928, the report says. It was designed by William Kapp of the renowned local architecture firm Smith, Hinchman & Grylls (now SmithGroup) and is considered “one of the best examples of early Art Deco architecture in Detroit.” The building has a beautiful green and tan mosaic and sculptures by Corrado Parducci just below the roofline.
We got a chuckle from this line from the report: “In this particular instance, the applicant’s proposal represents a rare opportunity to … mitigate against the suburban-style parking lots and driveways now debasing the immediate vicinity.” As haters of surface lots, we couldn’t agree more!