Council OKs $10.2M for Brewster-Douglass site

Candice Williams
The Detroit News
The Fredrick Douglass Development Project involves developing roughly 22 vacant acres near Brush Park’s southern end “into several mixed-income residential projects providing over 800 units, along with the construction of various other commercial, retail and public space components."

Detroit — The City Council on Tuesday approved a development agreement and commitment of $10.2 million toward a proposed $300 million development of the former Brewster-Douglass housing project.

The request, which resulted in a 7-2 vote, passed after the developer addressed concerns from some council members who wanted to ensure the proposed development would have an adequate number of affordable housing units.

The Detroit Housing Commission recently entered a purchase agreement for $23 million with Douglass Acquisition Community, an affiliate of Bedrock, for the former Fredrick Douglass housing site. The sale of the site allows for the housing commission to further invest in its existing public housing.

"The Douglass Site gives us the unique opportunity to create a development that will offer something for everyone and bring a sense of community back to a space with such a rich historic legacy for so many Detroiters,” said Dan Gilbert, chairman of Bedrock, in a statement following the vote.

“Parks, courtyards, retail, affordable housing and for-sale units are all in the mix on this project and we look forward to working with our partners to create a thriving and diverse community with opportunity for all Detroiters to enjoy.”

The proposed development will have at least 25 percent or 156 units of affordable housing units — whichever is greater — within the plan to bring about 900 housing units, green space and retail to the 22-acre site, the developer said. The area is bounded by Beaubien to the west, Chrysler Service Drive to the east, Wilkins and Alfred to the north and Winder to the south

City Council President Pro Tem Mary Sheffield, who voted no on the agreement Tuesday, said she wanted to see more affordable housing on the site. Councilman Roy McCalister also voted no.

“The agreement for us is really locking us into only 25 percent of affordability on the site,” Sheffield said. “I have an issue with that. I think we can do better with more than 25 percent.

"At this time without engaging with the community and knowing what they want to see … I know there has been conversation around senior housing on that site. I may want to see senior housing. I’m not sure what may fit that structure, but today we are essentially locking in an affordability agreement for only 25 percent of the units to be affordable on that huge site.”

Steve Ogden, Bedrock’s vice president of government affairs, noted the project voluntarily exceeds an agreement Bedrock has with the city to provide 20 percent of units of affordable housing for those that earn 80 percent of the area median income.

The council’s vote on Tuesday would not have impacted the sale of the property, however, officials said that they did not want to apply for final sale approval from the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development without the city approving the agreement.

Donald Rencher, director of Housing and Revitalization, said that once HUD approves the sale, the affordable housing developer will submit a market study and apply to the Michigan State Housing Development Authority for a deep subsidy.

“If we don’t move quickly, we could potentially miss the date to apply in April and that would push us to the next round in October,” he said.

Earlier this month, the city's Housing and Revitalization Department submitted a proposal to the council requesting approval of $6 million in HOME Investment Partnerships Program funds, $3 million in Community Development Block grants and $1.2 million in Detroit Water and Sewerage Department funding for the development.

Twitter: @CWilliams_DN