Detroit is a city of opportunity, innovation and investment. We can become a leader in urban revitalization’s best practices if we can commit to providing inclusive housing options for all Detroiters: our long-time residents, recent transplants, and especially the community’s most vulnerable.
But there’s a formula for success. Implementing multi-dimensional housing solutions and strategies to grow the population, while transitioning from a city of primarily homeowners into one that promotes both affordable and market-rate rental options is a major step. In previous decades, when industry thrived and the middle class prospered, we were fortunate that over 60 percent of Detroiters were able to participate in the American Dream, but as the economic downturn became a reality, that dream crumbled and has shifted us into a city of renters. Now, rental housing and the accompanying lifestyles require that city leaders, developers, and community financial institutions like LISC meet the new demands for a more diverse market.
We also have to understand that renters can be a transient population with particular preferences, and advocate more than ever for affordable, quality housing products. This is crucial to stabilizing the population – valuing each resident and respecting that they are customers within our city. Regardless of income, each has a different perspective on how to spend housing resources. Many low-income Detroiters receive housing vouchers that give them options beyond the city limits, so they can search neighboring suburbs for living options. Long gone are the days of assuming less salary automatically equals less quality community surroundings. It should never be taken for granted that those who are economically challenged will choose only what’s available in Detroit’s price ranges. What they might lose in square footage outside the community they might gain in a sense of safety, educational options and employment opportunities to rebuild their family’s dreams of a better quality of life.
Detroit has to become more competitive to ensure our policies and resources meet the housing demands of all its people. Even the city’s 10,000 homeless represent a demand that we’ve not met as a community. We have to commit to equitable housing, which means both preserving current affordable homes and providing new options for new residents, to put diverse products online that reflect the overall population. This overall population includes displaced citizens, veterans, and seniors, those who are too often overlooked. Our loss is another community’s gain, because housing dollars move to where they’re welcome.
Editor’s Note: Tahirih Ziegler is the Executive Director of the Detroit Local Initiatives Support Corporation, where she directs LISC’s investments and implements the Building Sustainable Communities placed-based model to revitalize Detroit’s neighborhoods. Since 2010, Ziegler has facilitated LISC’s investment in excess of $53.8 million in grants, loans, and national resources into Detroit. Her innovative leadership has resulted in the support and investment of hundreds of affordable housing units and commercial space development.
Lead and other photos unless otherwise noted by Paul Engstrom