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Develop Detroit Launched to Help Detroit's Underserved Neighborhoods

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The group is expected to roll out its first development project later this year.

With all that's happening downtown and along the M-1 Rail, many ask, "What about the neighborhoods?" Many underserved communities in the city could see a boost in the next few years from the mission-driven non-profit launched last week called Develop Detroit.

Curbed Detroit sat down with Sonya Mays, who's been working for a year to raise funds to launch Develop Detroit. With support from JPMorgan Chase, Ford Foundation, and The Kresge Foundation, Develop Detroit is a social enterprise of the Housing Partnership Network, which works nationally to build and preserve affordable housing options through partnerships with its member organizations.

Develop Detroit is modeled on a New Orleans-based non-profit, she says, the Gulf Coast Housing Partnership (GCHP). It's a model best rooted in collaboration that can access credit to move quickly to serve the community and take on transformative real estate projects in tough markets. To date, GCHP has developed 2,600 units of housing, education centers, commercial space, and cultural centers - nearly 50 different projects representing over $300M in neighborhood investment. The video can be viewed here.

Develop Detroit is working to acquire their first three properties right now, she says, and after they close, they'll have a clearer idea of the first neighborhoods they'll focus on. They'll work mainly with multi-family, mixed-use properties. But it's not just about building living spaces. They'll look to see the needs and gaps in the communities, such as early education, cultural centers, and recreation centers, and use real estate and development to address those gaps.

"After more than a year spent building this business and raising the funds to make it a reality, I am thrilled to introduce it to the community," says Mays. "Develop Detroit looks forward to both renovating existing housing stock and building new high-quality housing options, particularly outside of the downtown and midtown areas where much of the investment energy is currently focused."

Headquartered in downtown Detroit, the team is headed by Mays, who returned to Detroit from New York City, where she worked as an investment banker at Deutsche Bank to serve as a senior adviser to Emergency Manager, Kevyn Orr. Following her tenure with the emergency manager’s office, Mays began to map out plans for Develop Detroit. The team includes:

  • Ben Phillips, a 20-year community development veteran real estate executive who serves as vice president of real estate.
  • Latrice Davis, a senior associate and Cass Tech graduate, who returned home from New York after working in varying operations, business development and account management roles for many startups.
  • Oren Brandvain, a metro Detroit native who serves as a project analyst providing assistance in the conceptualization, analysis, and management of the development process for Develop Detroit’s real estate developments.
  • Michael Appel, a project manager and accomplished housing advocate with over 30 years of prior experience as an executive and lead developer at Ann Arbor’s Avalon Housing.

Develop Detroit is committed to building high-quality homes for all Detroiters, including market rate options for both buyers and renters, and housing for seniors and the chronically homeless. Using a public-private partnership model, Mays charted a strategy that allows Develop Detroit to deliver results to communities that reflect their needs and desires. Its projects will be citizen-inspired and brought to fruition by professionals. Develop Detroit is presently building its pipeline which will ultimately include a wide range of mixed-use residential and commercial projects, including existing homes and apartment complexes as well as ground-up developments that integrate housing and community-based businesses. The organization is expected to roll out its first development project later this year.