3 lessons learned covering Detroit's development ecosystem

Serving as the editor of Model D's Block by Block series over the last few months, I've had the opportunity to learn quite a bit more about development in Detroit. The series, which has focused on minority-driven development, launched last March under the watchful eye of prior editor Biba Adams and was further developed by Jane Simons. 

Since that time, Block by Block has tackled big picture issues like the need for affordable housing, covered personal stories like the former University of Michigan basketball star David Merritt's efforts to revitalize a West Side neighborhood, and illuminated helpful resources like the Elevate small business grant program.

Looking back over the ground the series has covered during the past year, here are three lessons I learned about development in Detroit.

The Kamper-Stevens apartment building was designed as a senior living community.1. Efforts are underway to preserve and increase affordable housing in Detroit.

Right now, housing is in high demand across the country. And it's no secret that access to affordable housing and rental units has been a concern in Detroit for some time now. 

Public pressure around the issue led to the passage of a 2017 city ordinance requiring new development projects in Detroit receiving city financial incentives to designate at least 20 percent of their units at affordable rental rates. It has also led to the creation of a multi-organizational Preservation Partnership. the alliance, which includes Enterprise Community Partners, United Community Housing Coalition, Data Driven Detroit and others, is dedicated to preserving 10,000 existing regulated affordable housing units by 2023. 

Affordable housing has particularly been an issue for seniors, some of whom have faced displacement due in part to development connected to an influx of higher-income individuals moving to the city in recent years. Concerns around that specifically led to the establishment of a coalition called  Senior Housing Preservation Detroit (SHPD).

Dennis Archambault, a member of SHPD and Vice President, Public Affairs with Authority Health told Model D reporter Jane Simons, the coalition wants to avoid situations like the 2013 displacement of 120 seniors living at 1214 Griswold St. 
"We were particularly concerned that no other senior building would be transitioned into market-rate units and we encourage developers where possible to think about that,” he said.

Chase Cantrell is developing this property in Detroit's Live6 neighborhood.
2. High supply costs are creating additional hurdles for minority developers.

BIPOC developers are also battling a difficult development climate at the moment. Material prices have grown steadily since the start of the pandemic, due in part to Inflation and supply line issues. A lean job market has complicated the situation making it difficult for construction crews to find workers. 

Taken together, it's become increasingly difficult to finish development projects on budget and on time. While pandemic-related issues are being faced by developers and contractors no matter what their background, Black and Latino developers have often had to respond to the crisis while at the same time dealing with long-standing challenges like access to capital and other barriers.

Developer Alisha Moss had to shut down her company VM3 Consulting and Construction at the beginning of the COVID outbreak. While she has since resumed operations, Moss told Model D reporter Blake Woodruff minority developers like herself have had to become more resourceful than ever

“It's just a continuation of the state of our country," she said. "You’re expected to work three times as hard, and you're not guaranteed anything."

READ co-founder Jason Jones
3. Growing networks of minority developers are changing Detroit's development ecosystem.

In the very first article of the series, Biba Adams writes about the work an organization called Building Community Value (BCV) has been doing to help beginning developers get a foothold in the industry. Led by Chase Cantrell, the nonprofit is dedicated to teaching residents of Detroit, Hamtramck, and Highland park the fundamentals of small-scale real estate and development to local residents with the goal of implementing and facilitating new development projects in underserved local neighborhoods.

And for those with more experience in the field, the industry group Real Estate Association of Developers (READ), has been working to connect minority developers in a way that benefits both them and the community at large. 

"Our goal is to make sure that Black developers can make those investments and then pay them forward through their hiring practices all the way into the community," READ co-founder Jason Jones told me in an article examining the impact of minority development in Detroit.

These new industry groups are making it easier for newcomers to understand the basics of doing business in Detroit and are helping build solid networks of like-minded developers. While obstacles remain, the emergence of these organizations represent a shift in the dynamics of the local ecosystem that may make it easier for Black and Latino developers to address those challenges in the future. 

This is part of the Block by Block series supported by FHLBank Indianapolis that follows minority-driven development in Detroit.
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Read more articles by David Sands.

David Sands is a Detroit-based freelance writer. He's covered the news for Huffington Post Detroit as an assistant editor and worked as a staff writer for the transportation news site Mode Shift. Follow him on Twitter @dsandsdetroit.