Apartment renovations show how to combat gentrification in Cass Corridor

Two historic apartment buildings at the corner of Cass and Martin Luther King are being renovated for lower-income people.
Two historic apartment buildings at the corner of Cass and Martin Luther King are being renovated for lower-income people.

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.

The Davenport, which was windowless, decaying and covered in graffiti, was painstakingly renovated.
The Davenport, which was windowless, decaying and covered in graffiti, was painstakingly renovated. All photos by Steve Neavling.

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.

Residents of three apartment buildings on Henry Street gathered after the tenants were ordered to leave.
Residents of three apartment buildings on Henry Street gathered after the tenants were ordered to leave.

Related: Bring on more gentrification, proclaims Detroit’s economic development czar.

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.”

The Davenport, built in 1905, was covered in graffiti and open to trespass two years ago.
The Davenport, built in 1905, will contain 9 apartment units.

Davenport before after copy

The apartment buildings are at Cass and MLK.
The apartment buildings are at Cass and MLK.
The Cass Plaza is a big building with a lot of work needed.
The Cass Plaza is a big building with a lot of work needed.
The previous owners chiseled off bricks and cornices and left it to look like this.
The previous owners chiseled off bricks and cornices and left it look like this.
Work is beginning on Cass Plaza, which is in rough shape.
Work is beginning on Cass Plaza, which is in rough shape.



Steve Neavling

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.

  • Horace

    The only way Detroit can survive is by gentrification – i.e. have people move in who are educated and make good money. It’s the only way the City can get a tax base that supports its continued existence and the only way the schools can possibly become functional. For Detroit, there are no negatives for gentrification its the only way to survive. Those who oppose gentrification are actually advocating for the destruction of the City of Detroit.

  • codfilet

    Detroiters just can’t seem to stand the idea of White people moving back into the city,can they?

  • javierjuanmanuel

    wow, I would love to see how they spent 16.5 million on a building that small, and for low income people no less.

    How many sq ft is this building ? A search on google sent me to curbed which says just 8 units ?

    Why are we subsidizing 2 million dollar apartments for low income people ?

    WTF !

    • bdcanuck

      There are two buildings being renovated for that $16.7 million. Together, the buildings will have an estimated 47 units, not the 8 you are quoting, so the money is going quite a bit further than you were thinking.

      “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.”

  • Harry Palmer

    Nice to see Detroit acting like a “major urban City” in as much as realizing that these buildings can and should be restored, and that it’s important to make a livable community for everyone, not just to cater to the “new” demographic.

    • javierjuanmanuel

      its important that people make money, and make its easy and regularly or this all ends.

      Why does affordable housing have to be managed, and subsidized, the median sale price of homes in detroit is under $20,000.

      This is not SF, we are not renting 450 sq apartments for 1800 bucks and they are gone in a few house, 1100 sq ft homes are not 1.2-1.5 million bucks.

      You can get 2-3-4 bedroom, what every you need really, for basically the same price. 20 grand, with a garage and a basement.

      • Harry Palmer

        Low income people who live in subsidized housing generally do not qualify for mortgages, also, that 20 grand house you’re talking about usually needs 20-50K in repairs to make them livable.

        • javierjuanmanuel

          then go live in a crappy market rate apartment for $600 bucks.

          How can you rationalize spending 2 million bucks per apartment.

          2 million bucks buys allot inthe midwest, you can buy very nice mansions well kept, in very nice areas for 2 million.

          This is inexcuseable. These costs are BECAUSE it is subsidized. Its insanity.

          • mandem

            Where are you getting this 8? I see 16.7 million on 2 buildings: one 3-story building with 9 units and one 6 story building with an undisclosed number of units (but it looks huge.)

            I’m just wondering what I’m missing because you’ve based your whole argument on this number.

        • javierjuanmanuel

          Many are being lived in now, by people of modest means, its just not a show place.

          Do you mean nice or very nice? I mean liveable as in liveable, fix a roof is 5-6-7 grand, and paint the place is almost nothing if you paint it yourself.

          It has a bathroom and a kitchen and if it is rough around the edges, who are they to complain, they are borderline poor, or lower middle class, they are getting into a house they can fix up.

          So cruise CL or home depot returns for scratch and dents, and display items, and learn to DIY and fix the joint up over a number of years.

          No one should have 2 mill spend on them, and handed the keys to an apartment in a desirable part of town, just because it sounds good on the news to people who do not follow to the logical conclusion.

          • Harry Palmer

            Most of those homes in Land Bank auction have, to varying degrees, been scrapped. The furnaces are gone, pipes cutout, doors and widows gone under the plywood that’s used to cover them. Oh,there’s a ROOM where the kitchen was, but nothing else, some have had the electrical wiring pulled out… you think those homes are livable after a weekend Home Depot project?
            No, it’s closer to 20K + investment on top of the sale price, taxes, etc., and some working poor person is going to be able to handle that on their minimum wage job?

  • bebow

    The Davenport looks nice. What’s inside?

  • Mars305

    Lived down most of my life (over 40 years). Love what they are going to do. I just hope they at least screen people before they put them in a newly renovated historical building. That is a lot of money to put into an apartment, if you end up with a junkie in it tearing it up. However,
    We do need more low income housing. Can’t say I’m happy about all these people coming in and trying to push us out.
    Wasn’t sure what grocery store you were talking about, cause no big one has been here in a long time. The affordable food is at Eastern Market. But, I have notice newer people with higher prices.

    • javierjuanmanuel

      if there really is demand for low income housing, you should be able to go rennovate a small building, fill it immediately, and make allot of money. I do not think you or others are going to do that.

      There exists tons of low income housing in detroit, its basically 95% of detroit is low income housing.

      • bebow

        Most what might be characterized as low income housing is ruined. The structures are still standing, some look intact from the outside, but inside, it’s over. The remaining properties are showing increases in rent to levels near inner ring suburban rates. Supply is way down and declining in Third World Detroit.

        • javierjuanmanuel

          yeah so the low income people move a mile or two away.

          Well if there is no supply which I do not agree with, they should not live there subsidized anymore than I should get a subsidized penthouse suit, or lake front home.

          I agree that lots of places look ok, but are not worthy of fixing up, why not build new very inexpensive, very durable, very small, and effecient new places?

          Lots of cast cement and cinderblock, stuff that cannot be damaged, or ruined as people are evicted. Poor people should have a place to live, but it should not be a 2 million dollar apartment.

          • bebow

            A mile or two away within the unselected neighborhoods, the destruction is the same. I’m not saying there is no supply, but it has been significantly diminished. The destruction isn’t over. These places here might stand a chance of staying fit for habitation if they are closely managed and policed.

          • javierjuanmanuel

            thats great if it is done at what the market will tolerate and can be repeated and profitable. I do not want to see classic old buildings fall over, but then I do not want to pay for people making 35-40k, to move into an apartment that 2 million bucks was spent fixing up, and their rent is $650.

          • bebow

            What you’re suggesting has been tried before with unsatisfactory results. They are called housing projects and prisons. Cramming poor people into isolated, close quarters creates a new set of expensive problems.

            Many of the problems Detroit is experiencing are consequences of its long history of morally depraved decision-making. There is considerable resistance to accepting and addressing the reality of those withering consequences. A futile search continues for an “easy button” escape plan.

          • javierjuanmanuel

            try reading what I said, I did NOT say what you suggest, based on only what I typed, one could also imagine small single family homes. I just said small, cheap, and hard to tear up, and easy to clean out. You should be safe from the elements, but not able to bust out the walls, or flood thejoint and ruin, or fall asleep and burn the joint down doing drugs.

            You do not think say part of the problem with the brewster projects or any projects is the people there face no cosequences, and pay nothing?

            Thats great that you love poor people so much, you do not think they are equal, you actually think they are better people, hear me out on this. You can do the same with rich kids, give a 16 year old, a new 80k car and no consequnces and no repercussions and what do you get ? A kid who bumps the car, speeds, puts greasy burgers on the sears, scuffs the head liner with his sports equipment, does burn outs every day and wrecks a thousand dollars worth of tires on a whim. Who cares, its all free !

            The same happens when you give people free homes, and the fact it is a large number of people does not effect it. Its that its people with maybe a few problems from drugs, to just a shitty attitude, to not very good work ethic, and putting them together does not make them worse, it just shows allot of them are crap people. Not because they are poor, they are poor BECAUSE they are crap people. Again not all, but many for sure. This is of course not all the people, I know poor people that work 2-3 jobs and go to school. I also know proud scammer poor people, who NEVER want a job, they want welfare, and a side hustle of low level crime.

          • TJ

            Free homes??? Hmmm… not what this development is, its not subsidized housing, its simply family housing for lower income (50-55% AMI). They are paying for rent and utilities the same as anyone. The only difference is there are federally funded programs that assist to a point. Its money that gets spent either way, least its helping out families who are less fortunate.

          • notasdumbasulook

            How about mandatory birth control for welfare? Huge part of the problem is having children before learning anything.

          • javierjuanmanuel

            what problems does it create, please show how these problems you are going to list do not exist elsewhere.

          • bebow

            So, you need to do some reading on the issue of concentrated poverty. The concentration of poverty serves to concentrate poverty’s ill effects. This will get you started:



          • mugg$

            juan in Palo Alto CA (I’m sure you’ve heard of it- Silicon Valley California) they are handing over 1500. per month rentals to “low income” uneducated people (the family I saw in the article were illegal immigrants) that will live next door to engineers & scientists who PAID for their apartments with their salaries. The arguments in favor of the free housing for the poor family was that “the poor should be guaranteed safe and clean housing”!!! I was rather peeved at this “argument”. NO one is guaranteed a right to safe nor clean housing. We get what we paid for, what we earn. Why should I get a million dollar townhome if I did not graduate, slept late and did not study, while my neighbor who slaved for years to put himself through school has to pay for his place with his own money. It is NOT fair. It is THEFT. It is not fair, it is not kind, it is satanic really.

      • Mars305

        I don’t renovate apartments, I renovated my home . But apartments, no thanks.

  • Awesome.

    • javierjuanmanuel

      would you think it was awesome if a private developer was trying to sell 2 million dollar apartments right next door, or would you call it a rip off ?

      Ok, then explain why this is awesome.

      You do not pay ANY taxes do you ?

      • I take it that was a rhetorical question, but I’m failing to follow the argument. What are you asking? I would like to see low income housing in very close proximity to high end/market rate housing, and I am thinking the housing market will shoot up with the Red Wing development. I think the “catalyst area” is right there around MLK. Concentrating poverty compounds disadvantage.

        • I pay taxes and am on the political left. I believe in collectively paying for a social safety net that helps different classes of society. Rawls, etc. Let’s not just start blindly talking shit because we have opposing political philosophies. They’re probably both reasonable.

          • javierjuanmanuel

            yeah I already advocated that poor people should be in houses, modest, small, effecient, hard to destroy homes or apartments. I am not for spending 2 million bucks on an apartment. I was not talking shit, its just that people love to spend OTHER peoples money, differently than they would spend their money.

          • I haven’t been closely following your work.

          • javierjuanmanuel

            thats fine, I am not wishing bad things to happen to poor people, I am not super well off, just barely stradling middle class and upper middle class.

            I just wanted to be clear in the comments of this very story, I advocated for the poor to be housed. But cheaply, in hard to destroy or abuse homes. Not 2 million dollar apartments.

          • D Murphy

            Where do you get this 2 million dollar number you keep spitting out? The article states they are spending 16.7 million for two buildings. The smaller Davenport building will have nine apartments while the larger Cass Plaza building has an unknown number of apartments. Given its size i think its safe to assume there will have at least 25 maybe 30 apartments. That puts the cost per apartment somewhere around 500,000, which, granted is still a lot of money. However, as someone of your extensive knowledge must know, not all of the money will be spent on the apartment alone. The buildings themselves must be renovated, which has nothing to do with the living space. And yes, cheaper places can be made starting new. But God forbid that the Cass Corridor Neighborhood Development Corporation would want to pay a little extra to keep some century old building around.

        • javierjuanmanuel

          Not rhetorical. What would you think if this same project was all private, and someone bought this hulk of a building for say 50k, and poured 16 million bucks into it, and just to be like this, to break even sold 8 apartments for 2 million bucks each.

          What do you think of that as a business model, is it sustainable, and do you think spending 2 million bucks per apartment is a good thing to do?

          You must know you can built a 600-1000 sq ft building for $100 per sq ft right? You must know that if you feel comfortable saying this is a good thing. So knowing that, explain how this is good and sustainable.

          Then explain how if it was private it would not be a joke ?

        • javierjuanmanuel

          concentrating poverty compimds disadvantage ? Is this proven, I mean it sounds legit if it was sudan, and there was no schools, or no running water, or no opportunity for 100 miles. How can you even get to the prosperous area.

          Thats not detroit, thats not most of the urban and suburban america.

          Poor people get free food, free schools, free cloths, free almost everything, and most of the time they are not but a few miles from somewhere atleast middle class if not darn near nice or upper middle class.

          Do not repeat such crap from books, try thinking it out, and applying to the real world.

          How was some kid in say 1970s brewster projects held back if he was smart, went to public schools, and could go to college, and ride a bus to a job, and ride a bus to nice areas etc. How would he be held back one bit ? HE WOULDN’T ! In one generation if you go to school and study something useful, you can go from abject poverty, like 9 kids in a one bedroom apartment, to being a nurse, marrying an engineer, and living in a 750k house.

          • I’d be more inclined to discuss this in person than here. I don’t know what monopoly on “real world” understanding you have, but I’ve thought it out differently. I would suggest allowing yourself some books though.

          • javierjuanmanuel

            I do not have a monopoly on real world, I just noticed your speaking to much from text books you no doubt liked because they spoke to the world you want to exist. Its allright, I have read many many hundreds of books, I have an entire 9 ft tall wall, 14 ft long filled with books I have read (thats just the ones I own, not that I borrowed from the library or sold, or gave away), and I have read just as much or more on the net.

            We are not failing to agree for lack of reading on my part.

            You are just reading your adimitted far leftist stuff and loving it, never applying it to the real world to see how it holds up.

          • TJ

            This has nothing to do with the arcticle… the article is about low income housing not impoverished/ subsidized housing… wow…way to stay on point!