Matt Helms, Detroit Free Press 7:11 a.m. EST November 2, 2015
Companies look to continue housing incentives in Detroit in 2016
(Photo: Romain Blanquart, Detroit Free Press)
Five years after the launch of an incentive program to encourage people to move into areas in and around Detroit’s Midtown, organizers of the effort say it has been a success at bringing a diverse mix of people into the neighborhood — so much that the incentives will likely keep going even after the pilot project comes to an end.
The Live Midtown program was designed as a five-year deal to offer rental assistance and help employees of businesses in the area purchase homes, condos and lofts as Detroit and the nation emerged from the worst of the recession. It’s funded by three major employers — Wayne State University, the Detroit Medical Center and Henry Ford Health System — that, along with the Hudson-Webber and Kresge foundations, have spent about $1 million a year on the incentives. The goal: to encourage workers to move in and stay in the neighborhood — and in their jobs.
To date, it’s credited with bringing nearly 1,000 new residents to Midtown, part of a rush to an area that has raised rents and encouraged new developments, according to new data from Midtown Detroit Inc., the development agency that manages the program.
Joseph Baumann, 24, a Grand Rapids native who’s working on a doctorate in chemistry at Wayne State, first moved to this side of the state in 2013 and settled in Madison Heights. He heard about the Live Midtown stipends and moved into an apartment there last year, with a $2,500 annual incentive available to first-time Midtown renters. He stayed put but moved into a nicer apartment and receives a $1,000 annual retention incentive.
He’s happy with his decision to stay.
“I really enjoy the centrality of everything, being able to bike over to the Eastern Market to buy groceries,” Baumann said. “It’s nice being able to bike to work every day. I have a car I touch once a week. I’m thinking about selling it.”
Midtown Detroit’s executive director, Sue Mosey, said the Live Midtown incentive program has proven more popular than anyone thought it would be — with applications for incentives increasing every year. Each year, there were more applicants than money available, and that’s the case again for 2015. The incentive area stretches roughly between the Lodge Freeway, I-75 and from downtown up to the Boston-Edison neighborhood.
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Now it’s up to the three major employers behind the incentives to decide whether and in what form to continue the program, something Mosey said she expects will happen.
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“All three of the institutions are taking a look at how they want to move the program into a second phase,” Mosey said. “They’ve all indicated they love this program, and the really want to continue it.”
Ron Henry, chief facilities engineering and construction officer for the DMC, confirmed that continuing the program remains under consideration.
“We’ve been extremely pleased with the performance of the program and all the benefits for those who have taken advantage of it,” Henry said.
Far from benefiting only upper-income suburbanites, Midtown Detroit says that five years of data show that a racially and economically diverse group took advantage of the program. Of the people approved for either rental or purchasing credits, 40% were African American, 30% were white, 20% were Asian and 10% were Latino or from another minority group, according to Midtown Detroit. Detroit is roughly 83% African American, 10% white, 6% Latino and 1% Asian.
More than a third of the participants were already Detroit residents, about 30% were from Detroit’s suburbs and a third were from out of state, Midtown Detroit said.
And about half of the recipients of rental incentives had yearly incomes of $30,000-$50,000 a year, and half of those who received purchase incentives had incomes of $20,000-$50,000, the data show. The incentives have supported $10.8 million in rental payments in Midtown and nearly $8.9 million in sales of homes, condos and lofts, according to Midtown Detroit.
Sue Mosey, president of Midtown Detroit, Inc. , speaks
Sue Mosey, president of Midtown Detroit, Inc. , speaks during the ribbon-cutting ceremony for Willys Detroit, the sister store to Shinola Detroit, in Midtown Detroit on Friday, June 13, 2014. The new multi-brand store will bring in an assortment of fashion, home, and apothecary brands. (Photo: Kimberly P. Mitchell)
Mosey said the program also had a core mission of encouraging the employees of the three companies to be a part of the revitalization of the neighborhood, an enticement that would help the companies retain workers.
Mosey points to the income levels as showing that many of the participants were service workers employed by WSU, the DMC and Henry Ford, not only higher-paid professionals.
“This has been a very good program to continue to create the diversity of this neighborhood,” she said. “We have helped a lot of home buyers, a lot of workers in these institutions, have an ability to buy a place that whey would never have had the ability to do.”
That was helped, as well, by depressed property values in Detroit after the national recession and foreclosure crisis hammered the city. Mosey said many of the participants got a good deal. Those kinds of prices, Mosey said, are long gone.
Longtime residents and newcomers alike say Midtown’s walkable concentration of culture, entertainment, dining and nightlife is why more people are moving into the area.
Baumann said the area feels safe, with police from both the Detroit Police Department and Wayne State patrolling the area. His car has been broken into and someone stole a bike from him, but he said those kinds of things happen in any big city, and the suburbs, too.
“There are a lot of new restaurants to explore, museums,”Buy Photo
“There are a lot of new restaurants to explore, museums,” says Qiging Yu, 25 who lives in Midtown Detroit and also loves the architecture of the older buildings. Yu is a student in sociology at Wayne state University and was photographed on West Canfield at Cass in Midtown Detroit on Friday, October 16, 2015. (Photo: Romain Blanquart, Detroit Free Press)
Qijing Yu, 25, a graduate student in cognitive and behavioral neuroscience at Wayne State, said she appreciates the large number of restaurants to explore and the area’s museums.
“It’s beautiful,” she said, except for what she says is endless construction, particularly on Woodward where the new M-1 Rail streetcar line is being built.
Milburn Mitchell, 53, a resident for 20 years, said he stuck with Midtown because it has so many amenities within close proximity to his apartment.
“You got everything you need; you can’t go wrong with Woodward,” said Mitchell, who’s on disability. “You’ve got restaurants and places to shop. You can walk to Comerica Park and to Lions’ games.”
Andy Worden went to medical school at Wayne State and is now in a five-year surgical residency at Henry Ford Hospital. He said he wanted to stay in Detroit and remain close to downtown and Midtown, so he bought a house in the Virginia Park neighborhood with help from a $20,000 Live Midtown loan that will be forgiven if he stays five years.
Andy Worden, 26, of Detroit purchased his home in theBuy Photo
Andy Worden, 26, of Detroit purchased his home in the Virginia Park neighborhood in June 2015 for $90,000 and is photographed in front of it on Tuesday, Oct. 27, 2015. Worden is a general surgery resident at Henry Ford Hospital and received a grant loan for $20,000 through the Live Midtown initiative. (Photo: Kimberly P. Mitchell, Detroit Free Press)
The Live Midtown program’s boundaries for home-purchasers like Worden were expanded to include areas such as Boston Edison, Woodbridge and the North End because Midtown proper is weighted heavily toward rental housing, with fewer options to buy.
“There’s a lot of fun stuff to do,” Worden said, from dining out to fishing on Belle Isle. “I like living in the big city, but the New Center area is a little quieter than being in the heart of downtown. It’s also a three-minute drive to work, which doesn’t hurt.”
Contact Matt Helms: 313-222-1450, firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter: @matthelms
How the incentives worked
Live Midtown and a companion Live Downtown incentive program are credited with bringing more than 2,500 new residents to downtown and Midtown neighborhoods since 2011.
In Live Midtown, employees of the Wayne State University, the Detroit Medical Center and the Henry Ford Health System were eligible; in Live Downtown, the incentives went to employees of Quicken Loans, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan, Compuware, DTE Energy, Strategic Staffing Solutions and Marketing Associates.
Participants who rent were eligible for $2,500 toward the first year’s rent for newcomers into the neighborhoods, and then $1,000 for the second year; people who already lived in either neighborhood also were eligible for $1,000 for renewing leases.
Home buyers — those who purchases houses, condos, and lofts — were eligible for loans of $20,000 toward the home purchase, forgiven at the rate of 20% per year over five years.
Homeowners new and existing also were eligible for matching funds of up to $5,000 for facade improvements to homes, including landscaping upgrades.
The good and bad about Midtown
Midtown Detroit Inc. surveyed people who’ve bought or rented in the area and used the Live Midtown incentive program about what they like and dislike about living there. Out of 320 Live Midtown participants, more than 90% said they would recommend Midtown living to others, and 75% said they’d stay in the area even after the Live Midtown incentives. Here’s what they had to say.
What’s great …
Location: It’s close to downtown, dining and entertainment and major employers, including Wayne State and the Detroit Medical Center, as well as arts and culture anchored by the Detroit Institute of Arts.
Restaurants and bars: It’s home to an eclectic mix of places for food and drinks.
People: The area is diverse, with people from all backgrounds, income and education levels, and neighbors are friendly.
Walkability: You can do a lot without having to drive.
… And not so great
Streetlights: Midtown is one of the last areas of the city to get new streetlights as part of the citywide relighting project, primarily because it’s concentrated close to Woodward and is older neighborhood with lots of underground utility lines.
Parking: It’s neither plentiful nor cheap.
Crime: Although much of Midtown is patrolled by both Detroit Police Department officers and Wayne State police and is one of the safer areas of the city, residents still worry about car theft, property crime, robberies and the like. The boundaries of the Live Midtown incentive area also include parts of the North End, Woodbridge, Virginia Park and Boston-Edison neighborhoods that Wayne State doesn’t patrol.
Vacant properties: While Midtown is transforming, it still has rough edges and a fair degree of abandonment around its peripheries.
Detroit Free Press, November 1, 2015