We’ve come to expect this sort of thing in places like San Francisco. But … Detroit?
For years, one of the main selling points for relocating to shrinking, down on-their-luck cities like Detroit is that they’re so affordable. During the post-recession era, cities such as Baltimore and Detroit had hundreds of homes up for sale for under $10,000, sometimes even under $1,000.
“The Detroit region is a very affordable place to live,” the Detroit Regional Chamber currently states in marketing materials, enticing workers to relocate to the area. “From lofts in the Cultural Center, to townhouses near Comerica Park, to single-family residences along the Detroit River, the Detroit region offers a variety of high demand housing at affordable prices.”
Yet many of those Detroit residents who moved into those downtown lofts and townhouses in recent years no longer feel that they’re affordable. In some cases, the middle-class young professionals who have helped revitalize the city are facing rent hikes of 30%, 40%, or more, and they’re being forced out, the Detroit Free Press reported.
By last summer, it was becoming increasingly clear that the supply of upscale downtown rentals wasn’t keeping up with demand, and that landlords were “pushing [rents] higher at every opportunity,” the Detroit News noted. According to MLive, Detroit home prices have been soaring as well, with median selling prices seeing double-digit rises month after month.
In 2009, when TIME hosted a blog on Detroit’s struggles, emerging downtown real estate developers such as Lofts of Merchants Row were working extra hard to sell would-be renters on the idea of living in Detroit, what with its reputation for crime, blight, and desolation. “There’s a lot of attributes to downtown living,” Lofts of Merchant Row’s Bob Schostak said. “It’s close to the waterfront. It’s a rich culture. There’s diversity with great districts like Corktown and Mexicantown. There’s historical buildings, arts and music. It’s a safe, vibrant community.”
The Free Press reported that while the Lofts of Merchant Row’s 157-unit complex was “only about 68% full in 2009,” there is now a waiting list in which people have put down cash deposits in the hopes of an opening for, say, a two-bedroom, which rents for $1,625 to $2,100. In fact, downtown occupancy rates are near 100% and there are waiting lists at nearly every market-rate apartment building in the downtown, Midtown, and Corktown areas, per the Free Press. No wonder, then, that rents are rising—from $1,200 to $1,600 overnight, for example—and that many young professionals who were drawn to these neighborhoods in recent years due to their affordability are being forced out.
Landlords and developers insist that the rent hikes are necessary in order for the projects to pay for themselves and to avoid them having to rely on subsidies for the rehab and maintenance of these properties. A Crain’s Detroit story published this past summer rounded up some of assistance one Art-Deco apartment developer received for nearly two dozen projects in the works, including “$10.8 million from tax-credit syndicators such as Great Lakes Capital Fund… $1.1 million from national stabilization program funds, $3 million from federal HOME funds distributed by the city of Detroit, $3.85 from federal tax credits, and $2.3 million from brownfield tax credits.”
For the time being, individual renters and home buyers are also eligible for help. Incentive programs such as Live Downtown offer new homeowners up to $20,000 in forgivable loans, and renters can receive $2,500 in the first year and $1,000 in year two of living in certain buildings in certain neighborhoods. That’s if they can find a place that’s available, of course. As the Free Press noted, these “programs have played a role in driving up rents.” So they may now actually be making it harder for recently arrived residents to stay or newcomers to afford living in Detroit.