Property Data Proves Key to Realistic Planning for Mixed-Income Communities in Detroit

Author: G, Thomas Kingsley
Date Posted: December 4, 2017

As the national narrative around Detroit has shifted from a story of blight to one of revitalization and resurgence, challenges and responses have arisen around ensuring the city’s recovery is inclusive for all residents. Over the past three years, Data Driven Detroit has collaborated with Capital Impact Partners to inform a fact-based approach to revitalization that minimizes displacement of current residents and achieves mixed-income neighborhoods.

Particularly in the rapidly-redeveloping neighborhoods of Detroit’s greater downtown, including the now well-publicized Midtown area, questions have been voiced about displacement and gentrification. In addition, the intense focus of development activity in Downtown and Midtown has led to concerns that developers and policymakers have neglected Detroit’s other neighborhoods. In response, a robust conversation has emerged around inclusive recovery in Detroit.

One of the most prominent organizations working to shape this conversation is Capital Impact Partners (Capital Impact), a nonprofit community development financial institution, which has an extensive place-based investment program in Detroit. For over a decade, Capital Impact has supported projects in Detroit while maintaining a focus on inclusive growth that seeks to ensure that low- and moderate-income residents also receive benefits from development activity in their neighborhoods. It firmly believes that stable, growing neighborhoods that retain a diverse income mix of residents represent the most desirable outcome of a revitalization strategy.

Since 2014, Capital Impact has partnered with Data Driven Detroit (D3) to obtain the facts that have supported much of its work. Drawing from D3’s regularly updated, comprehensive information on neighborhood conditions, their staff provided customized data to meet Capital Impact’s needs. The key in this case turned out to be information from the 2014 Motor City Mapping survey implemented by D3 and others:  thorough and reliable information on the vacancy status of the city’s land parcels and the presence or absence of structures. Very few cities collect such data comprehensively.

Capital Impact has worked with D3 and used its data in a variety of activities to identify neighborhoods where catalytic investments are likely to be most beneficial and to lay the groundwork for a mixed-income future. D3 examined the parcel data on vacancy and lot status, zoning and land use criteria, and other factors, as a basis for calculating maximum potential development densities for the more than 20 neighborhoods under study. Capital Impact then analyzed this work in conjunction with other relevant information from D3 for these neighborhoods; e.g., trends in the income and racial/ethnic diversity of the residents, housing affordability and other private market trends, and changing levels of housing assistance. Together, the analyses allowed Capital Impact to better understand how new housing, mixed-use development and other actions could support households across income brackets in differing neighborhood contexts. Capital Impact could better identify where a diverse income mix was attainable and the level and type of development needed to reach that goal. 

Capital Impact also requested that D3 identify individual multifamily properties in Greater Downtown for a study about displacement risk. This effort also yielded programmatic recommendations formulated to minimize displacement of low- and moderate-income households due to both market pressures and building renovations.

Using these studies and additional research to inform their strategy, Capital Impact invested over $70 million in 2015 and 2016 in neighborhood projects that support inclusive revitalization in Detroit. D3’s work in support of Capital Impact has benefited their efforts other important ways during this time:

  • The data supplied in baseline tables and other analyses formed the cornerstone of Capital Impact’s 2015 Towards Inclusive Growth in Detroit policy brief with development scenarios and allows Capital Impact and others to evaluate the impact of its investments against a comprehensive, measurable baseline.
  • Capital Impact employed findings from D3’s 2015 baseline research in its successful application for a $4.8 million Capital Magnet Fund grant from the US Department of Treasury to support mixed-income housing development and economic investment in targeted Detroit neighborhoods.


Beyond any single project, Capital Impact’s elevation of inclusive recovery, neighborhood income mix, and a focus on commercial corridors has helped to influence policies of the city of Detroit and other community development financial institutions s in the region. D3’s work has been integral to communicating the data and logic behind these strategies, and they continue to assist to Capital Impact as Detroit’s recovery proceeds.

This story was written by staff at the Urban Institute, drawn from documents and interviews with Capital Impact Partners. Data Driven Detroit is the Detroit partner in the National Neighborhood Indicators Partnership, a learning network in 30 cities coordinated by the Urban Institute. All partners ensure communities have access to data and the skills to use information to advance equity and well-being across neighborhoods.

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