Two historic, abandoned apartment buildings at the corner of Cass and Martin Luther King could easily be converted into swanky digs and attract dozens of young professionals and others willing to pay more than $1,200 a month in rent.
The unique buildings are conveniently located between blossoming Midtown, where occupancy rates are 96%, and the soon-to-be-built Red Wings arena and entertainment district.
But instead of becoming the next trendy spot for new Detroiters, the apartments will be rented to low-income workers because of deliberate, persistent efforts to curtail the negative impact of gentrification on an area that has become a safety net for people struggling with poverty, drug addiction and mental illness.
Leading that effort is the Cass Corridor Neighborhood Development Corporation, which is spending $16.7 million to renovate the three-story, 109-year-old Davenport and the six-story Cass Plaza, which was built in 1924. The apartments will be reserved for low-income people.
The Cass Corridor Neighborhood Development Corporation operates similar apartment buildings.
Extensive renovations are wrapping up at the Davenport, and work is beginning on the Cass Plaza, which offers quite the view of downtown and Midtown.
As development heats up in the area, groups such as the Cass Corridor Neighborhood Development Corporation will be competing with deep-pocket private investors for rental properties. In the spring of 2013, hundreds of elderly and low-income residents were ordered out of three large apartments on Henry Street before the sale turned sour at the last minute.
There is an abundance of apartment buildings in the Cass Corridor, and most of them are either occupied by lower-income people or are vacant. Developers are expected to begin gobbling up those properties before the arena opens in the summer of 2017.
Big property purchases have been made on the heels of the Red Wings arena development. A three-story brick flophouse, for example, sold for more than $3 million in 2013.
While opponents of gentrification stand no chance of preventing the displacement of many struggling people as the arena development gets underway, they are finding ways to reduce the impact. Some are small steps, such as providing a free bus service to a grocery store after the Cass Corridor’s only affordable grocer closed to make way for a high-end retailer.
Midtown Detroit Inc., the influential nonprofit that has spurred residential and commercial development in the area, is handling more properties in the Cass Corridor. The president, Sue Mosey, said it’s vital to ensure there is affordable housing.
“Affordable housing must be a part of the development of this area,” Mosey said last year during the groundbreaking for the renovations of the Davenport and Cass Plaza. “It’s essential.”
Steve Neavling lives and works in Detroit as an investigative journalist. His stories have uncovered corruption, led to arrests and reforms and prompted FBI investigations.