Home on Detroit’s east side during a college break, Maggie DeSantis’ daughter made an announcement.
Her community had begun to feel like it was a foreign place.
“I’m not living here,” she said, “because the neighborhood is changing in a way I’m not comfortable with.”
DeSantis, former head of the Eastside Community Network, immediately knew her daughter was observing the gentrification that’s become evident in various areas of Detroit. But the long-time community organizer, who serves as initiative manager for the Building the Engine Initiative economic development partnership, said soaring rent costs and marginalizing of residents in some districts mask a bigger issue.
“When you talk about timing, I think it’s important that we look at housing ordinances in the next year or 18 months for affordability.” -Tahirih Ziegler, Executive Director, Detroit LISC
“The real problem is we have a city of 140 square miles with only a few neighborhoods people want to live in,” said DeSantis.
Vacant land management, mass transit, and home repair subsidies are at the core of quality of life challenges, even as a handful of communities garner attention and investment the majority of Detroit sorely lacks, she said.
She adds that “social cohesion” has become a factor being measured in gauging neighborhood improvement and prosperity.
DeSantis and a panel of housing and neighborhood development experts, including Local Initiatives Support Corp.’s (LISC) national leader, Maurice Jones, shared insights and perspectives at a recent panel convened by TheHUB and moderated publisher Jackie Berg. It is the first in a series of discussions held in partnership with Comcast.
The event invited block club members and community coordinators to join the dialogue about quality of life and affordability in Detroit.
Gentrification presents challenges to quality of life and affordability, and can result in displacing those who have lived in neighborhoods for years and created a culture that supports the social network there.
“You can’t be agnostic about it. There are data points when a community is about to experience gentrification,” said LISC’s Jones, who is the former Virginia Secretary of Commerce and Trade and also served as the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s deputy secretary.
Detroiters can explore initiatives like the TOPA, which provides renters the chance to work directly with landlords and even refuse contracted sales arranged with third parties, giving the tenants a chance to buy property at equal prices.
Organizing to promote legislation similar to TOPA could give Detroit residents protection from displacement and help them gain assets, Jones said.
Affordable options to help rental tenants buy property or to attract new homeowners to a neighborhood are at the core of neighborhood stabilization.
“When you talk about timing, I think it’s important that we look at housing ordinances in the next year or 18 months for affordability,” said Tahirih Ziegler, executive director of Detroit LISC.
Detroit City Councilwoman Mary Sheffield is helping lead a charge to create an ordinance that would include creating a Detroit Housing Trust Fund that would support greater inclusion. The proposed inclusionary housing ordinance being considered could require affordable homes to be built when developers get financial assistance or discounted land from the city.
Meanwhile, Grandmont Rosedale Development Corp. represents about 6,000 homes of various price points, said Tom Goddeeris, executive director of Grandmont Rosedale Development, Corp. An annual listing of Grandmont Rosedale residences is showcased at a community open house organized and promoted by residents and members of the organization. Promoting quality of life in Grandmont Rosedale, including safety and opportunity for business development, has been a successful formula, beyond simply advertising homes, he said.
Audience participant Dorlester “Dotti” Sharp, a community organizer and board member of several nonprofit civic organizations, asked what she could do to encourage more activism and hands-on action in her Detroit neighborhood.
Sharing that he was raised by a grandparent, Jones said one way is to recruit four grandmothers, like herself, to join the call for neighborhood change. Together they can make a huge difference and move others to action.
“There’s nothing five grandmothers can’t do,” said Jones.
Lead Photo: (From left) Tom Goddeeris, executive director of Grandmont Rosedale Development Corp., Tahirih Ziegler, executive director of Detroit LISC, Jackie Berg, publisher of TheHUB, and LISC CEO Maurice Jones listen as Maggie DeSantis, Building the Engine initiative manager, discusses community challenges. Photo by Paul Engstrom