Allow me to freak out about $400K homes in my old Detroit neighborhood

A rendering of the proposed new homes in Woodbridge Farms. | Procida Diggs Development Group

I last spent time in Woodbridge Farms, my old neighborhood, last fall, when I joined some coworkers to plant trees with crews from the Greening of Detroit. And I wrote about what I saw and how it illustrated the dramatic and jarring ways that Detroit is changing.

But nothing quite prepared me for this.

A developer team is working with the city to invest around $6 million to build up to 27 houses in the historic neighborhood, which began in the early 1870s. All good. But here’s the kicker, via Crain’s Detroit Business:

The single-family homes would be market value, with prices to be determined, but likely in the $350,000-$400,000 range, (one of the developers, Douglass) Diggs said. They would be 1,800-square-foot three-bedroom homes with a private backyard, deck and two-car garage. (Emphases mine.)

This is frankly astounding.

The issue

Some of the commenters on the Crain’s piece raise the valid point that these are homes that will be marketed presumably to families in a city whose public and charter schools are in crisis, and that’s true. But I’m thinking about what it does to the neighborhood as a whole.

An old mansion on Lincoln Street in Woodbridge Farms. | Creative Commons via Girl.in.the.D

I lived in Woodbridge Farms from 2002 to 2005, during the Kwame Kilpatrick era. There were flickers of revitalization sprinkled around pockets of the city, but nothing like what we’re seeing now.

Woodbridge Farms (I didn’t know anyone who referred to it that way; we mostly just called it Woodbridge) was populated by eccentrics — reclusive Cass Corridor artists and hippies, gay couples living in perennial fixer-uppers, an anarchist collective that hosted performance art and punk bands, business owners and low-income folks who lived in apartment buildings or old homes subdivided into apartments. There was a church across the street where I remember listening to the pastor shouting out his sermon each Sunday. That describes pretty much the whole street. Yes, it was sparsely populated, with plenty of vacant lots. There was crime, and it occasionally got bad, but people looked out for each other.

It was decidedly not upscale back then, and I loved it. I loved the weirdness and the characters, the sense of possibility. The old houses and the community feel. I could wander down the block, gather wood dumped on a vacant lot and burn it in our backyard chiminea fireplace. The people down the street had a pet peacock and hosted giant Academy Awards night celebrations each year. I grew enormous sunflowers and vegetables in our backyard and made many a summer dinner from them.

The houses were beautiful, full of period architectural details and character, but often in serious need of TLC. None of them back then would have come anywhere close to fetching $350,000 on the market. Blight was always somewhere just down the street or around the corner.

These new homes, planned for the corner of Lincoln and Selden and between Selden and Brainard off Trumbull, look perfectly nice, judging from the renderings. They’ll certainly help boost property values for the existing residents. But at that price point, they’ll frankly usher in a different class of people to what has been a relatively stable but still rough-around-the-edges neighborhood.

I’m sure a list of recent home sales in the neighborhood would make these prices feel less shocking, and I know the neighborhood has seen a lot of changes since I left, many of them good. But it won’t be the same.

And so it begins, one neighborhood at a time.

8 thoughts on “Allow me to freak out about $400K homes in my old Detroit neighborhood

  1. Sven,
    I remember Kristen bringing me to your old place in this neighborhood. That was my first trip to Detroit and I will never forget that beautiful house and that eclectic and random neighborhood you guys lived in. Definitely felt like a small town in a big city. I remember your hippie neighbors with the old school bus and chickens running around the yard. I remember thinking where the hell am I!?! It was one of my favorite and most memorable trips to MI. Kind of bittersweet that they are changing it up. Take care of that place. – Cousin Andrea

    1. Sorry, I should say 4219. If so, we currently own that house. It seemed your description of the neighborhood was very much like our experience.

        1. Yes, we’ve taken over the top unit while we rent out the bottom. You would not believe how any people I’ve met who have lived in this house over the years.

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