Vacancy Rates in Detroit Remain Stagnant

In the City of Detroit in September 2016 the total percentage of vacancies was 21.9 percent, according to the U.S. Postal Service. This vacancy percentage was nearly unchanged from the 22 percent total vacancy rate the U.S. Postal Service reported in June of 2016. Similarly, when looking at the percentage of residential vacancies and business vacancies in the City these too nearly went unchanged between June and September. The U.S. Postal Service reports that the September 2016 residential vacancy rate was 22.4, down 0.1 percent. The September 2016 business vacancy rate was 25.9, up .02 percent from June.

Overall, in the month of September there were 87,762 reported total vacancies, 80,002 of which were residential, 7,670 of which were businesses and 104 of which were considered “other.” Between June and September, the total 0.1 percent vacancy decrease was equivalent to a decrease of 579 vacant addresses; there was a decrease of 641 vacant residential addresses and an increase of 62 vacant business addresses.

The first two maps below show, by Census Tract, the total number of vacancies and the total percentage of vacancies. The Census Tract with the highest number of total vacancies is on the east side, just north of Belle Isle. This Census Tract had 906 vacancies, which was 50.6 percent of the total number of structures in that Census Tract.

As the first map shows, majority of the Census Tracts with vacancies above 400 were located either on the cities east side, or just west of the downtown area of Detroit. When looking at the total percentage of vacancies in Detroit by Census Tract we see there is a slight shift in which Census Tracts have among the highest amount of vacancies in terms of percentage versus total numbers. This is directly related to the total number of structures in each Census Tract. For example, just east of Hamtramck there is a Census Tract with 229 vacant addresses, a number that does not put in amongst the Census Tracts with the highest vacancy numbers. However, these 229 vacant addresses in that Census Tract mean there is a 42.9 percent vacancy rate. Just south of that Census Tract is another where there are 307 vacancies which make up 18 percent of the structures there.

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When comparing the total number of vacancies between September 2015 and 2016 we see that there are several Census Tracts that experienced an increase in the total number of vacancies. It was a Census Tract just north of Highland Park that experienced the greatest increase at 7.8 percent. Vacancy increases over the last year occurred the most on the City’s east side, however they were not isolated there.

Overall, while there were Census Tracts with vacancy rate increases there was a total decrease of 5,446 vacant addresses between September 2015 and September 2016.

In addition to these changes, in September of 2016 there was a decline in the number of “no stat” addresses; that number decreased by 2084 in the last year. Mail carriers denote properties as being either “vacant” or “no-stat.” Carriers on urban routes mark a property as vacant once no resident has collected mail for 90 days. Addresses are classified as “no-stat” for a variety of reasons. Addresses in rural areas that appear to be vacant for 90 days are labeled no-stat, as are addresses for properties that are still under construction. Urban addresses are labeled as no-stat when the carrier decides it is unlikely to be occupied again any time soon — meaning that both areas where property is changing to other uses and areas of severe decline may have no-stat addresses.

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Refocusing Housing Policy in Detroit: Moving to Healthy Housing

The majority of families in Detroit face the risk of death, injury, illness and loss of their children’s mental capacity every day because of hazards in their homes. Based upon highly detailed analyses of homes, it is clear that homes are causing burns, falls, asthma, allergies and lead poisoning.

A detailed survey of Detroit homes, conducted by the Center for Urban Studies at Wayne State University, found that over 62 percent of nearly 500 randomly selected homes have at least one high risk hazard that is likely to lead to poor health outcomes. [1] Of these, 4.2 percent of the homes have three or more hazards in these high risk categories. These dangerous housing conditions, combined with high unemployment and continued crime, are driving people to leave the city in droves.

Recent estimates show Detroit is continuing to lose residents at fast clip, about 1,155 residents[2] a month.

The City is working hard on unemployment (and the improvement of the economy as a whole is helping) and on increased and smarter policing. But on housing for existing residents, far more needs to be done, not just by the City, but by the State and the Federal Government.

To stop this decline and avoid the health consequences of dangerous homes, Detroit and policy makers need to focus far more efforts on providing safe and healthy homes.

As of July 2014, Detroit had a total of 252,173 occupied housing units.[3] However, our best estimates—very generous–are that only around 500 a year are being substantially improved to make them healthy and safe places to live, while just over 800 new housing units were built last year.[4] This is an estimated total of 1,300 homes being produced per year. At this pace, it will be many decades before vast majority of Detroit’s residents can live in safe and healthy homes.

What is a reasonable goal for creating healthy homes for Detroit’s children? A modest goal would be to house all of Detroit’s 193,150 children[5] in safe housing within 10 years. Approximately 3 percent of households (or around 6,000 children) already reside in housing built later than 1980[6] and, in most cases, this is relatively safe housing.[7] A total of about 79,400 households with children live in pre-1980 housing, and we estimate 38 percent are in houses that have only minor hazards[8]. That means 49,259 households are living in homes where one or more major hazard puts them at risk every day. Having nearly 50,000 households plagued with one or more hazards is unacceptable, which is why the families residing in these homes need either new or rehabilitated housing, and they need it soon.

Within 10 years—a short time in the policy world—policy makers should be able to address these needs. To avoid deaths, injuries, illness and loss of mental capacity caused by home environments, Detroit needs at least 4,900 new or rehabilitated homes a year. That is 3.8 times the number we estimate that is being produced now. And this is only the number necessary to protect families with children, not other vulnerable populations such as the elderly.

We need to massively expand renovation and construction, specifically, in these ways:

  • First, concentrate on housing with children, the most vulnerable among us, for rehabilitation;
  • Let’s give families with children a priority to relocate to subsidized housing that has been built after 1980 or that has been re-built and remediated, including lead abatement.
  • Make homes healthy through small investments. Some homes can be made healthy for an investment of substantially less than $5,000. The Green & Healthy Homes Initiative Detroit-Wayne County has shown this can be done. We need to do more of this.
  • Work to improve and remove hazards from current houses, rather than new construction. In cases where the abatement of lead hazards is necessary, the work can cost an average of $20,000,[9] still a fraction of the cost of a new construction.
  • Use code enforcement to force rental owners to substantially improve homes. Progress is being made here, but the number of code inspectors, cut sharply in the midst of Detroit’s fiscal difficulties, needs to be expanded substantially.
  • Ensure all new construction in Detroit includes affordable units.
  • Increasingly the private sector is rehabilitating homes in Detroit. These rehabilitations should pass all standards, especially including the removal of asbestos and lead-based paint. Currently, private sector rehabilitations do not have to pass all standards among governmental and lending organizations that control the sale and rehabilitation of many of these homes.
  • Leverage local and state resources, ranging from public entities to non-profit and for-profit organizations, to develop a robust rehabilitation program. Mayor Duggan has made a good start here with his zero interest loan program, but many families cannot meet the income and other requirements required by this program. We need grant programs to assist these low income homeowners.
  • Many thousands of families are living in homes that have black mold and other major damage from the August, 2014 floods across Detroit and other communities in Southeast Michigan. FEMA and other agencies need to invest in these homes to protect people from major health problems.

Healthy Homes Risk Assessments 

These maps below are based on a random sample of 500 homes spread broadly across Detroit. At each house assessors completed a Healthy Homes Rating System assessment that examined 29 potential hazards. This rating system is a HUD-endorsed rating instrument that assesses both the probability of injury and extent of injury from a hazard.  Three of the most frequently occurring and severe hazards were excess cold, mold and dampness and lead paint. The following three maps portray of the areas of Detroit that had the highest levels of hazards.

Lead

HHRSMold Cold

 

[1] This data is collected using the Healthy Homes Rating System (http://portal.hud.gov/hudportal/HUD?src=/program_offices/healthy_homes/hhrs). According to this system, a “high-risk” hazard is identified by a rating of A, B or C on a scale of A-J, A being highest likelihood of serious injury or death and J being minimal risk.

[2] This calculation is based on the April 1, 2010 estimate based on the Census and a 2014 estimate from SEMCOG, broken down into a monthly estimate by simple division across the months.

[3] SEMCOG Community Profile, City of Detroit (http://www.semcog.org/Data/Apps/comprof/people.cfm?cpid=5)

[4] At best only several hundred houses a year are being improved to systematically reduce health hazards. It is important to note, however, that about 806 new housing units were constructed in Detroit last year.

[5]U.S. Census Bureau, Demographic and Housing Estimates, 2013 American Community Survey 1-Year Estimates, Detroit city, Michigan (http://factfinder2.census.gov/faces/tableservices/jsf/pages/productview.xhtml?pid=ACS_11_5YR_DP04)

[6] U.S. Census Bureau, Households and Families, 2013 American Community Survey 1-Year Estimates, Detroit city, Michigan (http://factfinder.census.gov/faces/tableservices/jsf/pages/productview.xhtml?pid=ACS_13_1YR_S1101&prodType=table), U.S. Census Bureau, Households and Families, 2013 American Community Survey 1-Year Estimates, Detroit city, Michigan (http://factfinder.census.gov/faces/tableservices/jsf/pages/productview.xhtml?pid=ACS_13_1YR_DP04&prodType=table) This is probably an underestimate as we were unable to obtain of precise occupancy data for post-1980 housing.

[7] It is also important to know that lead paint was banned for use in residences in 1978 and taken off the shelves in 1980.

[8] This estimate is based on the results from the Healthy Homes Rating System being conducted in Detroit.

[9] This cost may include the replacement of all windows within the home as this is a major source of lead.

Region’s oldest homes primarily concentrated in Detroit

Vacancy data shows that the region’s oldest homes face higher rates of abandonment. And Detroit has the biggest challenge in this regard. However, data in this post shows that many suburban and rural communities also have an aging housing infrastructure. These homes will require increasing amounts of investment to remain safe and habitable. The maps below show that a number of communities had an average housing stock of greater than 50 years old. For instance, the city of Detroit’s average year that a house was built was 1939. In the maps below we see that majority of the region’s housing stock was built between 1972 and 1991, but that Wayne County and the Woodward Corridor has older housing on average than other areas.

SEMCOG Housing Age

 

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housingDETROITmediantr (1)

Throughout the seven-county region, with the exception of the city of Detroit, we see that the median age of the housing stock is between 24 and 43 years (meaning they were built between 1972 and 1991). This fact corresponds with the beginning of population loss in Detroit (1960s), when residents began to move in large numbers to the suburbs. Other regional communities, such as Royal Oak, Pontiac and Livonia, neared their population peaks in the 1970s (view our previous post on the growth and decline of the region’s population here).

In addition, the maps shows us that Detroit’s median housing age is between 64 and 76 (meaning they were built between 1939 and 1951). It was during 1950 when Detroit’s population peaked at 1.8 million, so it is logical to think that a large portion of its housing stock was built leading up to that population peak.

Other areas where the median age of housing ranges between 64 and 76 years of age include Port Huron, Pontiac, Hamtramck and Highland Park. Hamtramck and Highland Park experienced population growth through the 1930s, largely as a result of the Dodge Main Plant and Highland Park Plant automotive facilities being built in those respective cities. Pontiac was also home to an automotive plant and experienced population growth during the same time as Detroit. Pontiac is also the county seat for Oakland County.

(For more information regarding the population growth of the municipalities mentioned above and the reasoning behind such growth click here).

HousingyearTRICOUNTY1939 (2)

housingyrDETROIT1939

The city of Detroit had the largest total number of of homes built before 1939, with nearly 120,000 still standing, representing 32.8 percent of the city’s housing current housing stock. However, the majority of the region had 30 percent or less of its housing stock built prior to 1939 at the city level. Older communities such as Hamtramck, Highland Park, Romeo, Ferndale, Pontiac and Plymouth had significant older housing stocks when compared to other suburbs.

Another area where more than 50 percent of the housing stock was built prior to 1939 was Mount Clemens, one of the region’s oldest cities (it was established in 1818 and became a city in 1879). Mount Clemens is the county seat for Macomb County and was popular vacation spot for many throughout the late 1800s and early 1900s because of its mineral baths.

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Metro-Detroit Housing afte 2000

Detroit Housing after 2000

Throughout the seven-county region, we see only a small percentage Census tracts with more than 10% of homes built after 2000. The Canton area in western Wayne County had the highest percentage of newer homes as of 2013, with more than 70 percent of the area having housing stock built after 2000. In Detroit, there are census tracts near Belle Isle, Corktown and on the West Side that are more than 20 percent homes built after 2000.

Other areas in the region where more than 50 percent of the housing stock was built after 2000 are Macomb Township (which has been named one of Macomb County’s fastest growing community), Shelby Township, Holly, Howell, Monroe and communities surrounding Ann Arbor.

Overall, while there are some newly developed areas in the region, the majority of Southeastern Michigan’s housing stock was standing long before 2000. In addition, the newly developed areas tend to be outside suburbs.