The Push for More Affordable Housing in Detroit

There has been a plethora of development in Detroit over the past few years. More often, it’s involving “mixed-use” development, a term for space that usually anchors a variety of assets, such as residential, office and retail establishments.

As the rate for rehab development increased, particularly in the downtown area after 2011, so did value in properties and the interest level of more people wanting to live in Detroit.

The Mayoral administration of Mike Duggan has long touted the need for Detroit to be a city residents to easily commute short distances for retail and other amenities near where they reside.

But it’s how Detroiters reside and the affordability to do so that had become a focus. It’s a challenge city leaders have attempted to get ahead of as gentrification has priced many legacy residents out of their homes in other urban cities.

“When I introduced the Inclusionary Housing in 2014, we were seeing rapid growth in redevelopment,” said Detroit City Council President Mary Sheffield. “We wanted to make sure the development was inclusive of Detroiters. It’s important because we want to make sure Detroiters have access to clean and quality affordable housing.”

Sheffield has sought to ensure that developers and city leaders aligned with the idea that there be an intentional effort to build housing that met the needs of Detroiters.

In 2017, Sheffield championed a new city ordinance her council colleagues approved which required developers seeking public subsidies or discounted public land on a housing development to set aside 20 percent of the development as affordable housing.

“I think we have to be careful,” Sheffield adds. “While we may not see it [gentrification] at the rate of other cities, we are teetering along those lines. We are building at a rate and a cost that is sometimes not affordable for Detroiters.”

Chris Jackson has built his career in real estate development in Detroit for nearly 25 years. He was one of the original partners in the Greektown Casino in 2000. After later selling his interest in the gaming entity, he partnered with the late Donald Davis, chairman of First Independent Bank. They later founded Queen Lillian, a development firm focused on creating commercial real estate. Under Jackson’s leadership, the company last year completed its first residential development project, Woodward West.

“We have ventured into multi-family residential space that of the 204 of them, 20 percent are affordable which is 80 percent of the average median income.”

Jackson’s current Woodward West residential building leases 80 percent of its units at market rate, while the rest are affordable.  He presses the distinction between affordable housing and low-income housing based on assumptions of others that both terms are identical.

His residential project, which has tapped into a public subsidy, is utilizing the city’s 20 percent rule, something Jackson welcomes for perhaps that entry level professional or working person at a certain and set income point to be a part of the housing opportunities Detroit is providing thanks to housing efforts like city council president Mary Sheffield.

As a Black developer and native Detroiter, Jackson believes he’s doing his part to ensure Detroiters are a part of the city’s growth while at the same time his development project(s) are good for business.

“There is definitely a demand for a good product with amenities in close proximity to the city’s core,” Jackson adds.

“I think there is a lack of affordable workplace housing. However, there is not necessarily a lack of low income housing.”

Jackson believes that development is important and should continue as if the city wants to project or embrace growth, especially for increasing workplace professionals searching for someplace to live.

“We need to have balance. We need to have market-rate, workforce housing, and need housing options for people considered low-income such as people who are transitioning out of homelessness.”

Sheffield seeks to embark on another challenge after her hard work of championing policy on affordable housing.

“The next portion of my term isn’t just building affordable housing, but how do we create more opportunities and resources and programs to lift people out of poverty and get to them to a place where they can afford to live in these units. We want people to be able to afford market rate, too.”



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