Hey everyone,

Outlier Media is in the middle of a multipart investigation into the Detroit Housing Commission. 

Why did we decide to launch this reporting project? Because affordable housing remains one of the top priorities for Detroiters, so much so that it’s come up as the biggest need in Outlier’s information needs surveys each year. So when a freelance journalist and Detroit Documenter took notes at a DHC board meeting in 2021 and wanted to find out more about how this important player in the affordable housing space worked, we were in full support. At that time we had no expectation it would lead to years of reporting. 

This week, we’re introducing you to Rukiya Colvin and what this project has meant to them. 

As always, thanks for reading.

The Dirt

>>More than just food: More than 300 units across five developments may be built in Eastern Market in the coming years. A majority of the units will be made affordable to households that make anywhere from 30% to 120% of the area median income (AMI), and some units will be tailored to certain populations. For example, a 100-unit project from Cincinnati-based firm Pivotal will keep units below 70% AMI with some designated for seniors. Other developments include a mixed-use project from American Community Developers and another with 214 affordable units from Develop Detroit. (Crain’s Detroit Business)

>>Offices no more: Owners of a number of downtown office buildings are planning conversions into hotels or apartments, accelerating a trend that began when office vacancy sharply increased after the pandemic. Some of these projects include the Harvard Square Center, Merchants Building and Buhl Building. The Ilitch organization Olympia Development of Michigan and Stephen Ross’ Related Cos. plan to add 1.2 million square feet of office space as part of District Detroit, while also converting the Fox Theatre’s offices into a hotel. (Detroit Free Press)

>>G7 forum: The Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) launched a study to look at redesigning Gratiot Avenue in Detroit. There isn’t much information about the study on the state’s site, but MDOT told Axios Detroit it would last 18 months with listening sessions starting this summer. The wide thoroughfare needs to be redesigned for the Gratiot-7 Mile area, where the city put together a framework plan with resident input. Work on the road, however, may be years down the line. The city and MDOT hope the study attracts federal funding to the project. In the meantime, the state plans to repaint the road to slow traffic and improve crosswalks. (Axios Detroit, MDOT)

Dig This

Why this reporter started to look into the DHC

Black person smiling, standing in a field in front of two sculptures composed of blue or red found objects. The person has dark skin and brown hair, and is wearing a red bandana, glasses, nose piercings, a gold necklace, a black shirt and a gray sweater.
Rukiya Colvin, a freelance reporter and community organizer, didn’t expect to find poor property conditions and a lack of accountability at the DHC. Photo credit: Courtesy of Rukiya Colvin

One of Rukiya Colvin’s first assignments for Detroit Documenters was to cover a board meeting for the Detroit Housing Commission. What Colvin learned led to a nearly two-year investigation of conditions at DHC properties. 

We spoke to Colvin about how this reporting project has shaped them as a reporter, organizer and resident of Detroit.

Dig Deeper

All about Belle Isle

Belle Isle gets a lot of attention this time of year — from both visitors and public officials. 

The state spent more than $20 million last year on the island park, namely restoring the Anna Scripps Whitcomb Conservatory. During an update at last week’s City Council meeting, state administrators said they plan to spend another $43 million this year. Major projects include repairing the James Scott Memorial Fountain and Belle Isle Boat House, improvements to the beach and reactivating the site of the shuttered Belle Isle Zoo. 

Last year, the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR) gathered community input for revamping the zoo, which has been abandoned for more than 20 years. Detailed plans haven’t been announced, but the state seems to be leaning toward a use more aligned with nature. “People really favored to try to restore the landscape to more of a natural condition,” Ron Olson, DNR’s chief of parks and recreation, told WWJ Newsradio 950.

Not everything is rainbows and sunshine on the island. BridgeDetroit reporter Malachi Barrett visited every public bathroom on Belle Isle last week and found that eight of 14 were inaccessible. The DNR said it was repairing several bathrooms, and a park janitor wasn’t able to open the others due to a family emergency.


Still no movement on Stone Soap redevelopment

Three-story industrial building made of brick with broken or missing windows and weeds growing on the sidewalk. A cylindrical glass skyscraper is seen far in the background.
Stone Soap building in 2020. It has been abandoned for more than 20 years. Photo credit: Google Street View

Axios Detroit checked in on the redevelopment of the Stone Soap building, a historic structure near the Detroit River. The latest update from reporter Annalise Frank? “Don’t hold your breath for construction to start on this one.” 

Developer Banyan Investments announced the redevelopment in 2017 as part of the major revamp of the eastern section of the RiverWalk. The $27 million plan called for apartments, condos, retail and rooftop gardens. But today, the building is a blighted nuisance with broken windows and bricks falling onto the sidewalk. The Detroit Economic Growth Corp. blamed “market conditions” for the delay. 

The Stone Soap Building was built in phases starting in 1907, according to documents submitted to the Detroit Brownfield Redevelopment Authority. The building got its name from the Stone Soap Co., which bought the building in the late 1970s to manufacture commercial detergents. It’s been abandoned for more than 20 years.

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.