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Detroit pitches plan to seek federal grant for affordable housing in Corktown

Christine Ferretti
The Detroit News

Correction: This article has been updated to indicate that future rent for residents of the Clement Kern Gardens would remain tied to their income. 

Detroit — The city of Detroit is pitching a multi-phase plan to bring an influx of new affordable and infill housing units, green space and other amenities to its Corktown neighborhood.

The vision was crafted by Detroit's Housing and Revitalization Department as part of a plan to compete for $30 million in federal grant funding. It will require Detroit City Council's approval on a series of land transfers to reinvigorate distressed properties and vacant land in the community.

The proposal was sent Tuesday to a City Council subcommittee for review and, under Detroit's City Charter, must be approved by council members before it can advance, said Julie Schneider, deputy director of the Housing & Revitalization Department.

Rendering of the plans for apartments in what was left field of former Tiger Stadium in Detroit's Corktown neighborhood.

If approved, Detroit's housing department will make its bid for a Choice Neighborhoods Initiative grant to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development by Dec. 16, Schneider said. 

The plan would take place in seven phases through 2027 and is built around three key projects. Among them is a multi-phase development in left field of the former Tiger Stadium site that's slated to get underway next year. 

The initiative's planning area is bounded by Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard to the north, Fort Street to the south, the Fisher Freeway to the west and Lodge Freeway to the east — encompassing historic Corktown and North Corktown.

The plan calls for the razing and rebuilding of the Clement Kern Gardens, a community of 87 affordable town-home-style units.

The effort, the city noted, would begin no sooner than 2022 and would provide all current residents of the Kern with an option to stay in the rebuilt complex or, if they choose, priority to relocate to another Corktown property.

The rent for those residents, Schneider said, would remain tied to their income. The grant would aid in relocation expenses for those who want to move, she added.

"They would receive the same type of assistance whether they stay or relocate," Schneider said Tuesday. "We want to make sure that the residents have that choice, and we want to make sure that we work with them to support them throughout."

The 7-acre Kern site was "isolated" when it was built in 1985, with berms and fencing that cut off streets, the city said. The plan, if it advances, would restore the street grid to help integrate the community into the neighborhood along with mixed-rate housing.

The project also calls for the addition of infill housing on 143 vacant lots in North Corktown controlled by the city but spread across 14.6 acres. The concept also would include a new neighborhood service hub and outdoor recreation site to be built upon the site of the former Owen Academy, which shuttered in 2012. 

The third component of the overall plan also includes a previously approved multi-phase development on the left field of the former Tiger Stadium site.

The first phase, on a 3.7-acre site along the Fisher Service Drive and Cochrane Street, would call for a $15 million, 60-unit apartment building with 48 units of affordable housing ranging from 30% to 80% of the area median income.

Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan announced last month that the project had been selected for Low Income Housing Tax Credit funding.

The overall housing plan is expected to cost about $180 million over its multiple phases and for other portions of the grant, she said, the city would expect to leverage at least another $55 million.

The grant awards are expected to be announced in late spring 2021. If the city is not awarded the grant, it intends to proceed with the identified projects but the funding and timetable for the work would be uncertain.

"Whether or not we are successful in being awarded a grant, we do want to move forward to deliver more affordable housing in the Corktown area,"  Schneider said. "That work will continue."

The planning process comes as Ford Motor Co. is directing $750 million toward a new Detroit campus on the western edge of the neighborhood, resulting in the creation of an estimated 5,000 direct and indirect jobs, as well as 2,000 construction jobs. 

Ford's project, which will include 1.2 million square feet of commercial, retail and office space, is anticipated to generate demand for more housing and increasing rents.

“With all of the economic development happening in Corktown, it is critical that there is affordable housing developed alongside it,” Donald Rencher, director of the City’s Housing & Revitalization Department, said in a statement. “Given the tremendous investment and trends that we are seeing, we are at an important time to ensure Corktown remains a place where Detroiters of all walks of life are welcome.”

“A project of this size can bring an incredible amount of positive change to a neighborhood,” added Schneider. “But change is still change, and that’s why it was one of our top priorities to make sure residents were engaged in every step of the planning process. Together, the city and residents have come up with a plan that will keep Corktown residents in the neighborhood they call home while bringing new amenities and vibrancy to this much-beloved part of Detroit.” 

The city's plan was crafted in partnership with local leaders, residents, nonprofits and private developers as part of a community framework discussion that began in mid-2019. Affordable and infill housing were among the top priorities identified.

"The engagement will continue," Schneider said. "It's a long-term outreach and engagement strategy that we will be working with residents on."

The team of Boston-based The Community Builders and Hamilton Anderson Associates of Detroit were selected this spring along with Detroit-based American Community Developers to oversee the housing implementation plan.

The Community Builders, the city noted, manages or owns 11,000 units of affordable housing nationally, already has experience implementing a Choice Neighborhood grant, in Cincinnati, and past success with the program is one of the factors considered by judges.

American Community Developers manages or owns 12,000 units, including Clement Kern Gardens and is developing the left field site of the former Tiger Stadium. It also has recently broken ground on Brush Watson, which will bring 310 units to Brush Park, more than half of which will be designated affordable housing.

cferretti@detroitnews.com