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Visions for Detroit


CNN has a pair of stories casting Detroit as a place of opportunity. First, Anderson Cooper reports housing has become so cheap that artists are finding they can afford to live there:

Whether they successfully transform a few blocks—and eventually whole neighborhoods—or should they succumb to the environment, these folks demonstrate that poverty itself is no cause or justification for crime and neighborhood neglect. The artists are just as poor as the rest of the city, but they are working to rise.

Second, a report on the investment opportunities at the margins of Detroit’s decay:

Pomranky says contrary to Detroit's national image, there are still clean, well-kept, middle-class areas people want to live in. "What we do is invest in neighborhoods that people are moving to," he says.

They target mostly middle-class neighborhoods on the far northwestern and northeastern edges of the city. The homes in these neighborhoods have stayed relatively high in value. Many of the homes are foreclosures. Some properties are bought from homeowners who have lost their jobs, and a few have been donated to nonprofit organizations, which then sell them to Burgess' company.

“Relatively high in value” is an important detail:

Many homes are sold to investors for around $35,000 after they have been renovated. "Some go straight to rentals, some go to rent-to-own lease options," Pomranky says. "And some are sold to new homeowners. It's about a 60 percent rental to 40 percent homeowners."

Burgess says his company can get a 12 percent to 20 percent return on its investment and that outside investment money benefits more than just the buyers and sellers.

The artists and investors may be on the forefront of a new model for massive urban renewal. Loss and opportunity are often two sides of the same transaction.

The optimists have a long, long way to go. A short slideshow from Time hints at the grandeur of city life which I imagine the artists hope to re-animate.

Related: NRR’s previous excursion to the Ghosts of Detroit.