Detroit’s got problems.
Its schools are dismal.
Its crime rate, while declining, is still scary.
And it just defaulted.
We recently made a case for why you should ignore all that and instead focus on the things Detroit has going for it.
But we wanted to dig deeper.
So we called up some folks who recently moved to downtown Detroit and asked them to explain their decision, which until recently many might have said was crazy.
They ended up all offering the same basic rationale: they wanted to live in what is by many measures the cheapest big city in the country.
Here, for example, are the values some of our interviewees paid for their homes.
- 5,500 sq. ft. — $148,000, Indian Village neighbourhood
- 4,000 sq. ft. — $65,000, Indian Village
- ~3,000 sq. ft. — $94,000, Woodbridge neighbourhood
The last figure belongs to lawyers Tifani and Brian Sadek, who moved from Chicago to the Woodbridge neighbourhood just north of downtown 10 months ago.
Mortgage insurance and taxes are quarter of what we paid in Chicago,” Brian said. “And we still have access to world class museums, major sports, downtown events.
They added that after putting in $16,000 worth of improvements, they recently got their home reappraised to $180,00: a 175% increase.
For Jeremy Brown and his wife, moving to Detroit came down to a dream — literally.
One day in November 2011, she had a random dream about Detroit.” he said. “I’d never even thought about it, never been to Detroit. I did a day of research and was like, ‘Yeah, that sounds good to me.’ I put Detroit weather in my phone, checked that everyday. Everyone told us we were crazy.
But they desired similar things as the Sadeks, and the decision was made.
“We wanted to be in an urban environment, but at the same time have two dogs and two cats,” he said. “We wanted to find way to have space without being forced into the suburbs — it would take several years before we’d be able to buy something — maybe never.
Instead, the couple, who work in real estate, just closed on the 4,000 sq. ft. home.
Almost everyone we spoke with credited Quicken Loans CEO Dan Gilbert investments (who is arguably more famous for owning the Cleveland Cavaliers) with driving Detroit’s commercial revival. We’ve written about his initiative before — as have most others — but to hear folks on the ground discuss it gives it new meaning.
“He doesn’t just buy buildings, he fills them with companies and workers – over 10,000 workers and 71 companies to date,” Tifani said in a follow-up email. “He financially supports cultural events that not only entertain those of us who live in the city but that also bring people from outside of Detroit. He encourages his employees to spend time in the city. He makes downtown “cool” and welcoming to Detroiters and visitors alike.
Life in downtown Detroit is not perfect, and the problems are unique and sometimes harrowing. Brown says there is a major market for scrap metal, and thieves are aggressive about stripping as much as they can.
People are trying to make ends meet by getting $5 or $10 of scrap, and they’re causing $5,000 in damage,” he said. “It’s happening all over the place. That’s really hurt.”
Jeff Winkler, a Vice President at Morgan Stanley, says he and his family have gone months at a time without functioning streetlights, and occasionally have had to pay extra to get their streets plowed.
There’s also the class division issue, which everyone we spoke with said they were fully aware of.
“One of the big problems with Detroit is an us-versus-them mentality,” said Ryan Southen, a 27-year-old photographer who moved to the city last year. “The city has had it for decades. There’s always going to be a little bit of friction, and one thing the city needs to do to move forward is not neglect people who who have been here for new development.”
But to a person, everyone is committed to their decision — not only to sticking around, but raising a family too.
“My son just turned 5, and it’s exposed to him more in 5 years than me in my first 20 years,” Winkler said.
“He’s been in downtown Detroit more in his first years here than I have in my whole life. I grew up in small town where there weren’t any black people — to him, he doesn’t know any better. The goal is to get him involved and do things for charity, get him involved with people who aren’t as fortunate. It’s an opportunity for him to learn a lot.”
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