HUD grants Detroit $30M; 841 units of mixed-income housing to replace Kern Gardens

James David Dickson
The Detroit News

Correction: This story earlier misstated the date of the last train to leave Michigan Central Train Station, which was 1988.

Detroit — The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development has granted Detroit $30 million for mixed-income housing to hedge against gentrification in Greater Corktown, the federal government announced Wednesday. 

The city on Wednesday was among a handful of cities to receive a share of $160 million in HUD's Choice Neighborhoods Implementation Grant. Other cities receiving funds are Camden, New Jersey; Cleveland, Ohio; Fort Myers, Florida, and Lewiston, Maine.

With the funding, Detroit and its partners will replaced the distressed 87-unit HUD-assisted Clement Kern Gardens Apartments with over 800 units of mixed-income housing."

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

The project will include 151 replacement units, 489 moderate-income units, and 201 market rate and home ownership units, according to the HUD announcement. 

"Like much of Detroit, Greater Corktown has weathered population loss, widespread demolition, and disinvestment," the HUD brochure reads. "Due to urban renewal during the 1950s, 75 acres of homes within Greater Corktown were cleared for industrial development, and the neighborhood was interrupted by multiple highways."

When Kern Gardens was built, Corktown included Tiger Stadium, home of the Detroit Tigers, at Michigan and Trumbull. 

These days, the center of Corktown is the Michigan Central Station, owned since 2018 by Ford Motor Co.

The last train departed from the station in January 1988. The facility w neglected by longtime owner Matty Moroun.

The transformation of the abandoned train station into office space has sparked  concerns about gentrification, and that low-income people would not merely be left behind as Corktown transformed, but priced out.  

"Rents started going up immediately" after Ford moved to the neighborhood, Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan said Wednesday at a press conference announcing the grant. "The rents have gone up 100%."

"We want to be a part of keeping the neighborhood available to everybody," Duggan added.

Clement Kern Gardens was built in the 1980s, "in a way that isolated the neighborhoods from the surrounding neighborhood," HUD officials noted. 

Corktown plans

In March 1984, when the 90-unit Kern Gardens development was announced, The Detroit News reported there were only 166 homes left in Corktown, "many in deteriorating condition."

It was named for Msgr. Clement Kern, "the Labor Priest," a longtime pastor at Most Holy Trinity Church, who had died the previous year. A statue of Kern was built on the grounds and still stands. 

John Roach, a spokesman for Duggan, said the statue will be "incorporated in a meaningful way" at the new facility, and the name would continue on.

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

The HUD brochure says the goal of the grant money is to "ensure that as Detroit’s oldest established neighborhood experiences unprecedented growth, it remains one that is vibrant (and) diverse, and provides opportunity for all residents."

Duggan called Julie Schneider, the city's interim director of housing and revitalization, "the $30 million woman" for helping secure the grant.

Schneider noted Wednesday that current tenants at Kern Gardens will have a "right to return" to the property if they choose as well as a "right to choose" to live elsewhere in the new development. 

Rent for existing Kern Gardens tenants will remain tied to their income.

Detroit Public Schools Community District is a partner in the effort, and "will help coordinate a cradle-to-career pipeline for children who live at Clement Kern Gardens Apartments," HUD announced.

Other partners include Ford, Detroit Riverfront Conservancy, Detroit Economic Solutions Corporation, the Michigan Department of Transportation and Wayne State University.

The federal grant award comes as Detroit seeks public input on how to spend $413 million in federal coronavirus relief funds it receives this month. A second installment of $413 million will arrive in Detroit next May. 

Duggan has said the first infusion could be used to restore neighborhoods; invest in parks, recreation and cultural facilities; improve public safety; add internet access; and give small businesses help.