May 18, 2023 - Development

How to deal with empty space in Detroit's Gratiot-7 Mile area

A vacant two-unit flat that the Osborn Neighborhood Alliance plans to renovate by October. Photos: Annalise Frank/Axios

Vacancy — be it homes or empty land — is a major obstacle that residents and the city continue to grapple with in Detroit's Gratiot-7 Mile sector.

Why it matters: G7 has a high concentration of empty lots and blighted vacant homes, which affects residents' psyches as well as the likelihood of more people moving in, Marcia Spivey of the Regent Park Community Association tells Axios.

  • "We can't truly market it just yet until we stabilize it," Spivey says.

The latest: Quincy Jones, executive director of the Osborn Neighborhood Alliance (ONA), believes his organization could serve as a model for community-led efforts to convert vacant homes into new affordable housing.

  • ONA got $791,000 from the city and private partner Invest Detroit to renovate three unused two-unit flats along Mapleridge Street just west of Gratiot. Jones expects renovations to be finished by October.
  • They'll then train Detroiters who buy the buildings for $110,000 to be homeowners-slash-landlords, allowing them to gain a real estate asset while renting out their second unit under a federal low-income housing program. The buyers can also apply for downpayment assistance.

What they're saying: The work "needs to be led by a community-based organization. We worked our way up to it, did one home first," Jones says. "That's when we began marketing and trying to get the city to jump on board. It took a while, but they finally got on board for investment."

Between the lines: The city has made tearing down blighted homes a high priority, but that process also leaves behind swaths of vacant land and empty-looking neighborhoods. G7 has 3,900 publicly owned empty properties, per the city.

  • The SNF team plans to pitch ideas to resident focus groups this summer on how to clean up those vacant areas and make them useful in the absence of ground-up construction, per Khalil Ligon, the city’s lead urban planner for the east region.
  • Pilot programs could include community groups getting financial support to take on management of nature-filled or park-like spaces, Ligon says.
An ice cream truck is stopped at a stop sign by a park.
An ice cream truck stops by Heilmann Park, the area around where the Regent Park Community Association plans to revitalize vacant lots.

Zoom in: The Regent Park neighborhood group is in the process of acquiring seven to nine vacant lots around G7's Heilmann Park, Spivey says. The group is applying for grants to install things like seating, colorful art, bike racks and greenery that brings in butterflies and birds.

  • "We want, in Regent Park, our kids to realize that no matter what it may look like at home, we're going to show you there are neighbors that care and we are going to show you how you transform your neighborhood," she says.

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