Nov 20, 2023 - Real Estate

New Brewster Wheeler affordable housing plans stir debate

Renderings of MHT Housing's plans for the Brewster Wheeler site. Courtesy: MHT Housing via a public presentation

Some Brush Park residents are pushing back on an affordable housing development plan for the site of the languishing Brewster Wheeler Recreation Center.

Why it matters: Nonprofit developer MHT Housing wants to rehab the rec center near Eastern Market and build four residential buildings around it, one of which would support youth aging out of foster care.

  • Detroit has a severe affordable housing shortage, and how and where to create the housing is a hot-button issue that drives arguments around how to equitably plan out our city.
  • A community neighborhood meeting last week featured tense moments between critics and the developer.

State of play: Young adults transitioning from foster care to adulthood are at risk of homelessness, lack of employment and health challenges.

By the numbers: The three other residential buildings for the general population would offer 78 one-bedroom units and 81 two-bedrooms, all rated for a range of affordability based on federal guidelines:

  • 48 units would be designated affordable for households making up to 30% of our region's median income ($19,890 for a household of one).
  • 24 units would be up to 40% of area median income ($26,520 for one).
  • 87 units would be up to 80% ($53,040 for one).

State of play: Some strident resident opposition during the meeting came from stated concerns that the proposed apartments' rent concentrates low-income residents without mixing in market-rate prices. Some cited the mixing of the two as a reason for the success of the Brush Park neighborhood.

  • Some think the development could increase crime rates, and criticized opacity from MHT, a lack of an overall strategy around affordable housing in Brush Park and too much surface parking.
  • One virtual speaker, Kelly G., said it's "not a matter of 'not in my backyard,' but I do think we're going very heavy-handed in one direction," taking into account other nearby affordable housing.

Yes, but: Other speakers vouched for the plan and specifically the effectiveness of Greater Grace's Bishop Charles Ellis III.

  • Ellis said there are 24/7 security plans, and a member of City Council President Mary Sheffield's office said "it is definitely a mix of incomes."
  • Another speaker, Darryl Woods, said in response to criticism that it was "disheartening to hear about a tale of two cities … and we should love on people and wrap our arms around people."

Catch up quick: Brewster Wheeler opened in 1929. It offered community programming, a gym and pool — and famously, Joe Louis trained there. It was shuttered in 2006.

  • Officials announced a $50 million redevelopment of the site in 2015 led by KC Crain of Crain Communications, restaurateur Curt Catallo and others — but it never came to fruition.

What's next: MHT is in the process of renovating the rec center and expects to finish this spring. It will manage day-to-day operations itself, Van Fox, president of MHT, said during the meeting.

  • MHT has also made two of three payments to buy the property, per Fox.
  • A dog park, playground, athletic field and the Sanctuary are slated to start construction this spring.
  • City Council is expected to discuss an amended agreement Tuesday transferring the Brewster Wheeler site's development responsibilities to MHT.

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