The District Detroit and the Call for Equitable Development

March 21, 2023

The District Detroit and the Call for Equitable Development

The District Detroit is a new development project designed to create an urban work, tech and entertainment space in the heart of the city. A proposed $1.5 billion budget entails four commercial office buildings, two luxury hotels, and 100,000 square feet of retail space.  As a result of the current Downtown Development Authority (DDA) agreement, property taxes generated by this project will never reach the schools or library fund for up to 35 years. Those taxes will be captured and returned to the DDA. District Detroit is seeking $797.75 Million in tax incentive package that including brownfield funding, tax abatements, and state tax capture.

Olympia Development/Ilitch Holdings and Stephen Ross’s Related Real Estate, the project developers, claim that The District Detroit will generate a mix of 18 thousand construction and permanent jobs with millions in income tax dollars for city coffers alongside expansion of affordable housing.

Nearly a decade ago, the Ilitch’s received $400 million in tax abatements pledging to build five new neighborhoods to “rejuvenate” the city of Detroit. The Ilitch organization failed to deliver–and the neighborhoods were never entirely constructed. Instead, what resulted was 147 idle properties, 46 empty parking lots, and 24 vacant buildings. This massive development failure is reason to question the credibility of Ilitch Holdings.

Ross’s Related organization has mixed reviews as a national player in the game of subsidized housing. Local housing advocates are already challenging Related’s definition of truly affordable housing in a community where affordable housing increasingly is out of reach for the average Detroit family.

When we examine the census data, we find that neighborhoods in The District Detroit “impact area” are already divided by race and income. The majority Black neighborhoods in the area report median household incomes of roughly $17k to $28K vs neighborhoods with a greater percentage of white residents who register a median household income of $55k to $78K. We suspect that The District’s “affordable housing” is designed for students and the young white professionals who will eventually get the good paying jobs they plan to create, not Detroiters.

Detroiters rarely get the high paying jobs in these deals—they almost always go to white suburbanites. And while providing housing at 50% AMI is better than most (sadly), these units will more than likely be small and not for families with kids, which is the household type that need affordable housing options in Detroit.

Historically and across the nation, these types of development projects have upended the local economic and social conditions in communities exacerbating racial inequities in nearby Black, Brown, and low-income neighborhoods. Detroit is no different. With more than half the project subsidized with tax incentives The District Detroit and future publicly subsidized projects must address the needs and priorities of Detroiters alongside those of the developer.

Detroit People’s Platform (DPP) and Equitable Detroit CBA Coalition are calling for a fair and equitable development process guided by a racial equity framework and a strong community centered Community Benefit Agreement (CBA).  In the absence of these intentional strategies Detroit will further the slide into a city segregated by race, class, and wealth – a dystopian future by anyone’s measure.