Hey everyone,

We’re still reporting on serious issues at Detroit’s largest provider of affordable housing, the Detroit Housing Commission. 

If you personally know a landlord that takes or has taken Section 8 vouchers, we’ve got a few questions for you. Shoot me an email at aaron@outliermedia.org.

But this week, we’ll take a summer detour to profile a Twitter account all about Detroit’s public benches. Yes, you read that right. Trust us, it is just the right balance of fun and nerdy. 

As always, thanks for reading.

The Dirt

>>I ❤️ Plaza: Hart Plaza is set to have its busiest summer in decades. Major festivals are taking place almost every week through July, but the mostly concrete park requires repairs to its aging stairs, plumbing and electrical system. The city has begun investing in the historic public space designed by Isamu Noguchi for the first time in years, spending almost $4 million replacing some concrete and planting trees. It plans to spend another $9 million to improve amphitheater seating, the grand stairs near the RiverWalk and fire safety. It also plans to restore Dodge Fountain by early 2024. One city official also said it’s considering adding green space to replace some of the “cold” concrete features. (Crain’s Detroit Business)

>>Development news quick-hitters: Bedrock has missed yet another construction deadline for the new Wayne County Criminal Justice Center. It’s now unclear if the county will be ready for its planned move-in date of Oct. 15… A group including the city, Bedrock and the Downtown Detroit Partnership are planning updates to Washington Boulevard’s median, including landscaping changes and the addition of a gravel path… And what about a number of delayed building projects, like the Osi Art Apartments in Woodbridge? Some of these developments haven’t seen any progress for months due to rising construction costs and financing issues. (Detroit News, Crain’s Detroit Business, Detroit Free Press)

>>Vultures: New York-based hedge fund Alden Global Capital has been buying mobile home parks across the country, including in Michigan. The investment firm has been described as a “vulture” for the way it buys distressed businesses and aggressively cuts costs. Residents and advocates say it uses a similar formula at its parks by raising rents, evicting mobile home owners and neglecting repairs. Mobile park residents own their home but must rent the land the home sits on, from which they can be evicted. Tenants, many of whom are on fixed incomes, would then either have to sell the home or pay thousands of dollars to relocate it. (MLive)

>>Unsupportive housing: One of New York City’s largest providers of supportive and low-income housing, Breaking Ground, is playing hardball with the city and its residents, filing eviction notices for hundreds of its tenants in an attempt to prod the city to provide rental assistance. A group representing homeless services providers said tenants owe $6 million across its portfolio. The nonprofit’s legal actions are taking place against a backdrop of record-high homelessness in the city. Tenants fell behind on rent during the pandemic, and the housing provider says the evictions are a necessary step to recoup record-high arrears. But activists criticized the lawsuits, saying the nonprofit shouldn’t be punishing the city’s most vulnerable residents, many of whom have mental illness or are formerly unhoused. (New York Times)

Meet an Urbanist

Everyone should follow the Twitter account cataloging Detroit’s benches

Collage on yellow background of four photos. Top left: Wood and metal garden bench across the street from a cemetery. Top right: Two flat benches made of wood beams and cinder blocks, both under trees on the front lawn of a brick building. Bottom left: Two wood benches built into an old concrete retaining wall, next to a grassy area, trees and a billboard. Bottom right: Modern, black metal bench sitting in front of an asphalt path, a playground, and a large white structure inflated by air and shaped like a dome.
Do you know where these benches, photographed by Detroit Bench Freak, are? Photo credit: Bobbi Baumez

The Twitter account Detroit Bench Freak, which has cataloged more than 500 benches in its short life, is an astounding display of nerdy obsessiveness. 

Find out what makes this account such a delight in its effort to catalog Detroit’s benches and promote their use.

Dig Deeper

Evaluating the land value tax

Mayor Mike Duggan announced his proposal to revamp Detroit’s property tax system at the Mackinac Policy Conference last week. He wants the city to switch from primarily taxing buildings to a land value tax (aka split-rate tax), which would instead tax land at a higher rate. There are 30,000 vacant lots, he said in his speech, and because speculators pay so little in taxes, they can sit on them. One speculator Duggan didn’t call out by name owns 261 lots but pays just $6,542 in taxes annually. 

The plan sounds simple enough: Taxes on buildings will be cut by 30% while the taxes on land will be tripled. What can Detroiters expect to see from this change?

Most homeowners would likely get a reduction in their property taxes of around $250, according to the Mayor’s Office. That includes owners of side lots, which thousands of homeowners have purchased from the Detroit Land Bank Authority over the years. “People who own side lots would see a small increase of about $30 in their property taxes for the side lot, but a much larger decrease in the taxes for their home,” John Roach, director of media relations for the city, told Outlier Media. 

Parking lots mandated by zoning also wouldn’t see an increase, Duggan said. But what about surface parking lots, like the many owned by the Ilitch family that largely serve Little Caesars Arena? The speech suggested these parking lots will also be considered vacant land, though the mayor didn’t get into specifics. “Owners of downtown parking lots are going to be hit hard,” Duggan said. 

There’s still a lot to be worked out about this plan and more details to be filled in. It needs to be approved by the Michigan Legislature and Detroit voters. But some of its early contours are encouraging.

Coming Down

Detroit’s incinerator

An industrial facility consisting of a beige smokestack and several gray and white buildings. A row of white trucks are parked in front of the facility.
The incinerator at 5700 Russell St. will soon be demolished. Photo credit: Detroit Street View/City of Detroit, licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0

The smokestack at Detroit’s incinerator is finally set to be demolished June 11. Before its closure in 2019, the facility that incinerated city trash to generate steam energy had been a lightning rod for criticism by nearby residents who said it created harmful fumes and unpleasant odors. The facility on Russell Street burned around 5,000 tons of trash every day since it began operating in 1986. 

Today, residents are concerned about the health risks and precautions they may need to take and say neighbors haven’t been informed. The demolition will certainly create dust, which may carry byproducts from decades of toxic materials combusted at the site.

The city said it’s done adequate outreach through door-knocking, flyer distribution and talking to community leaders.

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.