Gentrification of Detroit: Will Shiny New Projects Push Out the Old Residents?
Cross-posted at the Michigan Messenger
When Woodbridge Estates redeveloped the decaying Jeffries Projects site just west of Wayne State University in Detroit, they renovated one of the old towers that are visible from the Lodge Freeway and outfitted the tower with a giant clock. The clock is a tangible symbol that it’s a new time in Detroit.
Yet some fear such gentrification of the city will in time become a social problem of its own, pushing out current residents in favor of suburbanites with more money.
According to the American Heritage Dictionary, gentrification is “the restoration and upgrading of deteriorated urban property by middle-class or affluent people, often resulting in displacement of lower-income people.”
“Gentrification is happening a little bit in the Midtown area, specifically in Woodbridge and the Cass Corridor near Wayne State,” Margaret Dewar, professor of urban and regional planning at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, said in the first article of this series.
But it is not clear what effect this transformation is having on long-term local residents.
Brandon Q. White :: Gentrification of Detroit: Will Shiny New Projects Push Out the Old Residents?
Woodbridge was built on the site of the Jeffries-West Homes, a public housing complex commonly referred to as the Jeffries Projects. Jeffries opened in 1953 to much fanfare until drugs and crime changed the landscape for the worse in the late 1960s as the number of low-income residents increased.
Jeffries came to be considered an eyesore by many. In 1998, Jeffries residents were forced to relocate to nearby apartments, in Research Park and Freedom Place, to make way for the development of Woodbridge Estates.
The development of Woodbridge was a welcome surprise for Detroit residents who had written off that section of the city. The vision of real estate developer Herbert Strather, Woodbridge is a handsome collection of townhouses and single-family homes with prices from $179,000 to $339,000.
Based on the textbook definition of gentrification, some would say this is a clear case. But the situation is more nuanced.
Corey Sammons, site manager for Research Park, said only about 10 to 15 percent of his residents have come from the Jeffries Projects. Research Park has 98 low-income units out of 245. Like the Jeffries Projects of old, Sammons described two big issues he has to deal with: drugs and crime. An elaborate surveillance system in Sammons’ office lets him monitor the activity in every hallway.
Sammons doesn’t see Woodbridge as gentrification “because I worked in this area for years and the way I see it, as people mess up in one place (they) just try to get into another place. A lot of times people who live downtown don’t like to move anywhere past the (Grand) Boulevard.”
Todd Craft, community sales manager for Woodbridge, said he sometimes gets calls complaining that Woodbridge is facilitating gentrification by outsiders, and sees such sentiment on certain blogs. Craft said Woodbridge is a mixed-income development, based on a combination of market rates and government subsidies. Craft explained:
“On the apartment side, 60 percent of the units have some form of subsidy (ranging from full to partial) and the other 40 percent are market rate. On the for-sale side, it is just the opposite, where 60 percent of the units are market rate and the other 40 percent receive a subsidy in the form of a grant or a second mortgage and that second mortgage is forgiven if the resident stays for seven years.”
The grant is part of what is called the Hope 6 home-ownership program. The federal Housing and Urban Development Department subsidizes the program, which is unique to Woodbridge and ensures affordable housing for all groups, including seniors. According to Craft:
“Individuals could get a grant of up to $75,000 and if you take our lowest unit at $179,000 and an individual applies for the full amount of the grant, their mortgage would be $104,000. So you are talking about someone making $36,000 to $37,000 being able to buy a new home in an area where they probably work, which seems to be the bulk of people that take advantage of this program.”
Of the roughly 600 Jeffries residents relocated in 1998, Craft said, “300 were located where the opportunities became available again for purchasing units for rentals. Of them, none of them purchased, and some went into the rental side.” Craft could not supply an exact number for how many former residents now live in the rental side.
There is often a perception that those who buy gentrified housing come from outside the city. But Craft said, “Only two out of 40 of our residents have not come from the city. One of them is from Sterling Heights and works for DTE and the other lived in Southfield and works at an academy up the street.”
The last article of this series will investigate what the city of Detroit is doing to make sure that the negative ramifications of gentrification are minimized.
Read more about Detroit’s gentrification here at Michigan Messenger.