Discovering Detroit

Chris McLaughlin, MD of MIS AMS

 Back in 2016 I ventured off to India on one of the CiH South East’s international study trips in which I learned bucket-loads and got to explore the customs, hospitalities and housing sector of a country worlds-away from the UK. When I learnt the news that the next adventure was going to be discovering the city of Detroit -  I couldn’t say no.

I had little knowledge of Detroit and it’s housing industry, but the busy and interesting schedule over the five days sold it to me, so I packed my bags and my technology (of course) and got ready to jet off.

These trips are run once a year are a way for professionals such as myself to challenge our thinking, aid in our own professional development and hopefully take something back that can help move our own businesses forward. I have always really enjoyed mixing with others in this profession and there is no better way than landing in an unknown city or location to make people open-up and talk.

What the trip involved

Before jetting off, the presented schedule looked busy and on arrival it was. Our first day gave us a real understanding of the challenges and opportunities that Detroit as a city presented. Our whistle stop coach tour and visit to the Cass Community Social Services made it quite clear that Detroit was once bankrupt but it is slowly beginning to be turned around by a few dedicated individuals.

This turn-around is mainly being driven by one extremely wealthy and successful business man, QuickenLoans company CEO Dan Gilbert, who it seems is singlehandedly reviving the city refurbishing multiple sky scrapers and proposed ‘Q tram’ line at a time.

But the city that was presented to us on arrival did mask what was lurking deeper into the surburbs. Once the 25 of us began to venture beyond the Detroit River our eyes were very much opened to the stark reality of the urban lifestyle. It was one filled with streets upon streets of houses with caved in roofs, plots riddled with debris and street lights smashed to an inch of their lives.

As we explored further, a figure was mentioned to the group that back in 2014 out of the 263,569 buildings in the City, 78,506 were not lived in, these properties were either being squatted in, run-down, partially destroyed, or had been criminalised in some way – mostly burnt.

What we did quickly learn though was that the city is not being allowed to rest on its laurels, Gilbert alongside others, including the Mayor, are promising to breathe life into the city and begin lots of regeneration initiatives.

One of the biggest tasks on the agenda is for these ‘blighted’ houses to be removed to give way and much needed space for new neighbourhoods to begin to prosper.

Some areas close to the city are already beginning their make-over and we were lucky enough to go on a walking tour to explore further.

See a video of Chris on his walking tour here:

Even though the build pattern of these houses were simplistic and they didn’t look anything spectacular, these types of properties are starting to improve the overall look of the city.

What I found interesting though, was these newly erected properties where only a road or two away from areas that still looked very derelict. The result is, the up and coming Detroit is still very much residing next to the down-and-out city.


What I learnt

What everyone on the trip found hard to get our heads round at first was the reason behind the decline for the city. We were talked through the tax foreclosure that is currently in place and we instantly understood the issue!

The reason so many houses stand empty is that when a resident misses paying their tax, the penalty procedure is cut-throat. Once the taxes are missed, penalties and increased interest push a resident even further and further into debt. After a matter of month properties are seized. When even just one payment is missed, an individual is required to pay an APR of 18%, resulting in most people struggling to ever get back on track again.

Obviously with business investors such as Gilbert transforming the main city centre and the Mayor claiming to have already removed 11,000 empty buildings in two years, this tired city is finally being given the much-needed facelift it requires. But, with the tax issue not being given any real attention, it seems that residents will have a fight on their hands to remain afloat whatever their residency.