The Develop Detroit team, from left, Michael Appel, Latrice Davis, Sonya Mays, Ben Phillips, and Oren Brandvain.
The Develop Detroit team, from left, Michael Appel, Latrice Davis, Sonya Mays, Ben Phillips, and Oren Brandvain.

Develop Detroit, a mission-driven, nonprofit development firm that was founded in 2015, is looking to rebuild and preserve housing in the Motor City.

The organization’s president Sonya Mays and vice president of real estate, Ben Phillips recently spoke with Multifamily Executive’s Brian Croce recently to detail what they’re working.

Develop Detroit is aiming to raise $30 million and is more than half way to its goal, Mays says. To date, it has financial backing from J.P. Morgan Chase, Ford Foundation, and The Kresge Foundation. It was launched by the Housing Partnership Network (HPN), which is modeling the organization after the Gulf Coast Housing Partnership, which is started after Hurricane Katrina to rebuild communities from Texas to Florida.

Develop Detroit is currently working on the multifamily side of things but has plans to make an impact on the city’s single-family housing stock down the road.

Normally, Phillips says, a mission-based organization rehabs or builds one home a time in a given community, but that type of approach wouldn’t work in Detroit where the problem is so vast. “A big part of the problem with supply is that you can’t establish values because you’ve got homes that are derelict next to homes that in any other market would be worth a few hundred thousand dollars,” he says. “There’s just no way for people to establish values that are anywhere near what it costs to produce a unit.”

So Develop Detroit will look into acquiring many homes simultaneously. “Rather than do them on a one-off basis, the driver would be making sure that we’re stabilizing a substantial and sustainable portion of the community, which can reignite that cycle of mutual benefit,” he adds.

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