It’s been six months. What did DHC do?
Detroit Housing Commission (DHC) Chair Sandra Henriquez told us six months ago that she would turn around her agency’s poor performance by the end of the year. At the time, DHC was failing inspections, couldn’t manage its own voucher programs and was severely understaffed.
Have things improved? The short answer is no, but it’s worth delving into why in our recent article on DHC’s recent performance and what those who oversee DHC are doing (or not doing).
In development news this week, the Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) may be changing the design of the street to replace I-375 after it received widespread criticism. Elsewhere, problems mount for local developer The Platform and the city begins work on a new $160 million bus station.
Mayor Mike Duggan has also been in the news — and it turns out his proposed land value tax plan has made him a folk hero among a niche group of economists. Last week, we wrote about a map of the potential impacts of the tax plan; The mayor claimed that 97% of homeowners would see a reduction in taxes if the plan goes into effect. The city wanted us to add that no owner-occupied homes will receive a raise under the legislation, and we are happy to pass on that information.
We’re also curious: What do you think of Duggan’s tax plan? It appears that there is a significant number of residents and legislators who are skeptical about the plan to raise real estate taxes on land and reduce them on buildings. If you are against it, what are your concerns? If you support it, what do you think it will do for the city? Let us know by responding to this newsletter.
As always, thanks for reading.
>> Redesign Redesign: MDOT said in a statement last week that it “will.”Modify its approachregarding the design of the boulevard to replace I-375 after receiving widespread criticism from residents, stakeholders, and elected officials. Dozens of residents expressed disappointment with the project’s engagement process and design at a community meeting last week, saying the street would be too wide, that the process was not transparent and that the plan would not do enough to address the harm done to Black residents when the highway was built. Some even called for starting the whole process over. MDOT’s statement does not explain how the design might be changed, but it would take into account the traffic study currently underway and delay additional meetings until early 2024. (MDOT via Jena Brooker, Outlier, BridgeDetroit)
>>Fragile platform: Local development company The Platform is scaling back its projects as it faces some financial difficulties. The company, which co-owns the Fisher Building, recently canceled two development projects and put four of its properties up for sale. The four properties include the former Big Boy building that was controversially demolished in 2017, the unrealized Baltimore Terminal 2 site, land near the Riverfront Towers and a 4.34-acre site at Gratiot Avenue and St. Paul Avenue. The platform said in a statement that the company decided to focus on its “core assets.” The news is part of a larger trend for the company to offload properties, including the Lakeshore Global Building as well as adjacent land, and a significant stake in the Fisher Building to Michigan State University’s endowment fund. The sale may have been prompted in part by one of the company’s largest tenants, WeWork, filing for bankruptcy. The coworking company owes The Platform more than $5.1 million, making the Detroit company one of its largest creditors. (Crane’s Detroit Business, Detroit News)
>> Nerds love Dogan: Mayor Mike Duggan has become a hero to adherents of the economic philosophy that believes a single land tax can solve most of a community’s problems. They’re called “Georgians” — named after 19th-century economist Henry George — and they’re thrilled that Duggan is pushing for Detroit to be the first city of any size to adopt a land value tax. Some economists strongly support the tax because it encourages development and discourages work, unlike an income tax, and it is difficult to avoid. The movement was popular under George, then faded for decades until it rose to prominence again in recent years along with the rise of YIMBY (Yes In My Backyard) supporters. Duggan had no idea he would become a symbol of the faction, telling a reporter: “This is not a deeply philosophical movement. I’m trying to lower taxes.” It’s good that he’s willing to make himself available to national publications — we only hope he does the same with local media more often. (The New York Times)
>>Fast development news: The Historic District Commission has approved the demolition of a building on Jefferson Chalmers to make way for a parking lot that will be part of a $45 million performing arts center. The approval came despite commission staff concerns about a lack of community engagement and stormwater mitigation… The city of Detroit has begun the $10 million demolition of an old West Side bus station to make way for a $150 million, three-building complex that will house maintenance and buses. . Storage and management for the Detroit Department of Transportation. It is expected to be completed by 2026… Developer Richard Hussey celebrated the opening of a new 36-unit development on Willis Street in the city centre. Nine units will rent for 80% of the area median income… More than 300 renters have been approved for Detroit’s down payment assistance program as of Nov. 2, receiving up to $25,000 for a down payment and other closing costs. So far, 241 homes have closed and the city expects 480 people to benefit from the $8 million in funding. (Metro Times, Detroit Free Press, WXYZ, BridgeDetroit, Outlier Media)
Note: When demolishing the former bus station, Duggan said, “We have the talent, management, operators and mechanics to run a first-class system.” Reports from Outlier found that Detroit has about 130 short bus drivers What it needs to function at full capacity.
“Nose diving for three years”
Last May, Sandra Henriquez, CEO of the Detroit Housing Commission, acknowledged many of the problems identified by Outlier Media’s investigative series on DHC. At the time, she was confident she could change the commission by the end of the year.
“I want to see how much we can achieve in the next six or seven months from now on,” she told Outlier at the time.
But the situation in the committee remained virtually unchanged in the six months following Henriquez’s pledge. The vacancy rate remains well above federal standards, hundreds of vouchers remain unused, and staffing problems persist.
Join The Outlier Collective on December 7th at Spot Lite for our First Member Happy Hour event! We will celebrate a year of building community and strengthening relationships. Enjoy complimentary drinks and light refreshments from 5:30-8pm Tell your friends! Sign up for Eventbrite!
One good building
Historic Music Hall is getting a $122 million expansion
The Motown Museum isn’t the only Detroit music landmark to get a major expansion. Last month, the Music Hall Center for the Performing Arts announced plans for a new $122 million complex located next to the existing building downtown. The 108,000-square-foot expansion will be built in the hall’s existing parking lot and will feature an additional concert venue, music academy, restaurant and more.
The music hall is located in the Madison Harmony Historic District, which requires the city’s Historic District Commission to approve development plans. The committee approved most of the proposal at its September meeting, but requested a redesign of some exterior features and will return to vote on it later.
Commission staff prepared a report detailing the history of the building and how the designs for the new construction fit into the overall architectural character of the area. The new building is aesthetically modern, but the report is generally positive in its assessment.
The report says the hall was originally called the Wilson Theater when it opened in 1928. It was designed by William Kapp of the famous local architectural firm Smith, Hinchman & Grylls (now SmithGroup) and is considered “one of the finest examples of early Art Deco in Detroit.” The building has beautiful green and brown mosaics and sculptures by Corrado Parducci just below the roof line.
We got a chuckle out of this line from the report: “In this particular case, the applicant’s proposal represents a rare opportunity…to mitigate the suburban-style parking and driveways that degrade the immediate neighborhood.” As haters of superficial cuts, we couldn’t agree more!