Engaging Detroit

Revitalizing Detroit Neighborhoods, One House at a Time

While thousands of people have exited the city of Detroit, thousands have also stayed. Those who remain often have a strong commitment to bringing the city back to life.

“I have an investment in the city,” said James Thomas, Morningside neighborhood resident, minister, and entrepreneur. “My heart is in the city. I want to leave a legacy for my children and my children’s children.”

Dana Hart, who lives in the Northend and is board chair of the Northend Christian Community Development Corporation, worries that if she doesn’t learn about real estate investing, many in her community might be priced out of the market, given its proximity to downtown and Midtown.

Opportunities are everywhere in Detroit. You just need to know where to look, and more importantly, how to seize them. Peter Allen, a lecturer at U-M’s Ross School of Business and Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning, as well as a full-time real estate developer, is helping residents reclaim their city. He is volunteering his time to teach Detroiters how to buy and fix abandoned homes, and rent them. It’s a strategy for long-term growth and community stability.

Allen calls Detroit “one of the most undervalued big cities in the world, with billions of dollars of real estate opportunity.” But this isn’t a “get rich quick” scheme. It’s a grassroots effort to bring back neighborhoods and provide residents with the tools they need to wisely invest in their city.

“I’m going to help you not just buy and sell your house one day, but learn how to help build a lively, walkable neighborhood,” Allen told his students.

The classes are filled with Detroit residents eager to learn and invest in their community. They target six Detroit neighborhoods that are part of the Skillman Foundation’s Good Neighborhoods program: Brightmoor, Chadsey-Condon, Cody Rouge, Northend Central Woodward, Osborn, and Southwest Detroit.

“Skillman is making money available for home improvements, so we are working to marry those efforts,” said Sonia Harb, project manager at the U-M School of Social Work’s Technical Assistance Center.

With guidance from Allen and three former U-M students who act as mentors, the Detroit courses walk residents through the development and financing options for a rehab strategy, using real-life examples and scenarios. The first class’s final project focused on a house that a class member already had purchased and was interested in remodeling for a rental unit. The second session investigated a potential mixed-use development investment. The class members are excited to put into practice what they have learned, and classes will continue this year.