Some low-income Cass Corridor residents find way to stay

Louis Aguilar
The Detroit News
Patrick Dorn, executive director for Cass Corridor Neighborhood Development Corp., talks about Cass Plaza Apartments behind him. Empty for a few decades, it has been renovated into affordable housing.

Millions in development money is pouring into the once-impoverished Cass Corridor neighborhood north of Detroit's downtown, resulting in hundreds of long-time residents being priced out of rental apartments, according to housing advocates, developers and city officials. 

Still, there are several efforts to keep affordable housing in redeveloped and new residences in the neighborhood.

"I'd say half of the time, people have to leave the area because they can't find a new place that had the same cheap rent they used to have," said Patrick Dorn, executive director of Cass Corridor Neighborhood Corp., a nonprofit that manages several affordable-housing apartments in the area

Frequently, a new owner needs to do significant repairs to a building, which means charging higher rent. Then, as the neighborhood rebounds and becomes more popular, developers push rents even higher. There are new Cass Corridor condominiums that list for over $500,000. Many rental units are climbing toward $1,000-a-month. 

One current example of the displacement of low-income residents is the Wayne Court Apartments near Cass Avenue and Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard. The 45-unit building was sold in April for $3.5 million to an Ann Arbor-based developer, Charles Dabrowski, according to public records. Residents have been told that due to significant renovations, they need to move, according to several who live there. Dabrowski declined comment.

Patrick Dorn, executive director for Cass Corridor Neighborhood Development Corp., talks on the first floor of the Cass Plaza Apartments.  It was empty for a few decades and has been renovated into affordable housing.  A future upgrade will include a coffee shop on this floor.  Photo taken on Wednesday, Aug. 1, 2018 in Detroit.  (Jose Juarez/Special to Detroit News)

"That place really needed repairs," said Dorn, who is helping some of the residents find other apartments.

The influential Midtown Detroit  Inc., the nonprofit behind several new developments, has committed to keeping 25 percent of residences at below-market rates in any of its housing developments.

Other private developers have taken considerable efforts to keep at least some long-time residents as they buy and overhaul properties. One example is the $12 million redevelopment going on at a 93-unit building  at 40 Davenport Street. Formerly known as the Milner Arms Apartments, the development firm Broder & Sachse bought the property in March 2016 and is renovating it. 

Broder & Sachse worked with the Detroit’s Department of Housing and Revitalization, as well as Midtown Detroit Inc., to find a way for some residents to stay after renovations. The developers helped find temporary housing and will allow them to return to the renovated building, which is being renamed the Hamilton. Residents who make less than $40,000 a year qualified for the help. Residents making $40,000 and above will have first rights to new apartments.

The average affordable rent in the building will be around $600. Upon returning to the building, the qualified residents will pay a one-time increased rent of 5 percent, and rental rates will never increase by more than 1 percent per year. In exchange for the developer’s commitment to keeping units affordable, city officials support the project request for tax abatements and help find about $450,000 in funding towards the costs of the rehabilitation.

"This is a win for the residents and a win for the city,” said Arthur Jemison, the Detroit's chief of Services and Infrastructure . "I am really pleased with the high standard they are now setting for other developers in this community."

Twitter: @LouisAguilar_DN