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The Chartered Institute of Housing is the independent voice for housing and the home of professional standards

South East conference international keynote: Detroit & Windsor - a tale of two cities

17/03/2016


As part of the South East International Group, CIH members and guests recently visited the USA and Canada to look at large scale, inner city decline and regeneration projects. Chris Moquet, CIHSE International Group and Jerry Paffendorf, Loveland Technologies provided an overview of the visit.

The city of Detroit has seen its population drop from a height of 2 million to 700,000. Initially this happened with affluent white populations being encouraged to move out to the suburbs (now 5 million people) to be replaced by black households during the 1970s. However, the collapse of manufacturing followed by the financial crisis has led to tens of thousands of empty homes in the 20 square mile city centre – known as ‘blight’.

Housing regeneration is done within a public-private partnership, providing a strong community voice through a 50-year 'Detroit Future City' strategic framework. Main objectives are catalytic action (pilots), strategic co-ordination of various bodies and informed decision making using data. The plan includes employment districts, transport, green landscaping, developing attractive neighbourhoods and a 50-year land use vision.

To support the vision, LOVELAND Technologies began mapping every parcel of land in the inner city, with 150 volunteers assessing neighbourhoods via an app. LOVELAND has now expanded their mission to map every parcel of land on the planet.

Geographical data analysis can identify clusters or properties and neighbourhoods for targeted action. Owners of abandoned homes are contacted and given time to reoccupy, sell or improve these homes before they are compulsory acquired into a Landbank. The Landbank how holds 100,000 properties and auctions them online as they are, but has recently begin to offer refurbished homes.

Redevelopment is supported through the Great Lakes Capital Fund with more than 130 investors, including Google. The Community Investment Act means federal banks have to invest in the community at favourable rates to fund housing projects.

Windsor is in Canada but only 750 metres away from Detroit. It is much smaller, with a 200,000 population without the urban sprawl and suburb living seen in the wider Detroit metropolitan area.

Windsor Essex Community Housing Corporation (WECHC) owns and manages around 4,700 units of housing (half family and half older people’s). 75 staff with housing officers manage 1,000 properties each. The homes have a high void standard with every property fully decorated with laminate flooring and rent based on 30 per cent of household income topped up by subsidy if needed.

A partnership with the University of Windsor see internships join WECHC as part of their degrees in social work, healthcare, business, law and music therapy. Students need to complete a placement to complete their studies with around 45 students on placement with WECHC at any time. The project has grown from one neighbourhood in 2005 to over six communities benefitting from the presence of the students focusing on supporting those in the community that that may feel isolated, marginalised or living in poverty.

Lessons for the UK:

  • Regeneration is a long-term commitment: Partnerships need to transcend the political cycle and have an acceptance that it may take generations to deliver visions. Maintaining this approach is tough and requires significant relationship management
  • Local understanding leads to locally relevant solutions: Subsidised land purchase would be ineffectual if it were not for complementary projects such as the entrepreneurial research, micro-orchards and business start-up initiatives.
  • Investment has a commercial foundation: The relationship between the sectors of government, business and charity function in a qualitatively different way in the US in favour of long-term commercial dividend. Catalytic wealth redistribution did not come directly from government treasuries but from tax incentives, flexible lending, and proof of concept investment
  • Social housing risks becoming residual housing for the economically inactive

A full report on the visit is available on the CIHSE International Housing Group Facebook page


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