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Downtown Detroit apartment vacancies up, rents down overall since pandemic

Posted at 5:39 AM, Mar 12, 2021

Downtown areas around the country have lost some of their shine due to the pandemic.

Closed concert venues, arenas, and limited dining made for pretty quiet city centers early on, and in some cases with people working from home, it was enough to draw them away from downtown.

Recent data from the Downtown Detroit Partnership shows the Motor City's downtown area isn't immune.

The data was taken from 4,487 units and shows that in the last quarter of 2020 the city's average vacancy rate was 16%, around double was it in the first quarter of 2020. The data collected does not include subsidized units.

While the numbers show that people aren't filling downtown Detroit apartments like they did pre-pandemic, there's an upside for perspective renters: attractive move-in offers and cheaper rent in many cases.

“I had toured this exact spot almost a year prior," Mark Ruhle told 7 Action News.

Ruhle, who is from Royal Oak, just moved to downtown Detroit from Southfield last week.

When he first toured the spot- a one-bedroom apartment located within Broderick Tower Apartments on Witherell Street- it was more than he wanted to pay.

Fast forward 12 months, and Ruhle revisited the idea of moving. In part he said, because he wanted to be downtown, confident in the city and state's rebound from the pandemic.

“They said hey we’re dropping the rent prices if you would like to move here now, the prices are a lot cheaper."

Around $300 cheaper according to Ruhle.

Eric Larson, CEO of the Downtown Detroit Partnership, which among other things tracks rental prices and occupancy Downtown, said it's a rent they've noticed since the pandemic.

“A reduction in occupancy up to 10 percent. A reduction in rents somewhere between, depending on the project, four and ten percent," Larson told Action News.

He's also the CEO of Larson Realty, which is behind "The Corner" in Corktown, a 111-unit building also feeling the impact of higher vacancies.

“We also have extended all kinds of various programs whether it’s free month rent, reduced rents, all kinds of programs for referrals," he said, nothing the things Larson Realty has done to keep renter interest.

He's not lone. Bedrock Detroit properties like The Stott on Griswold and The Assembly on West Fort are offering 1 month of free rent and $1,000 move-in costs.

While people like Ruhle may be drawn downtown given attractive move-in deals or lower rent, Liz Taylor moved away from the city this year.

Last month she left The Albert in Capitol Park after seven years; she was one of its original tenants starting in 2014.

Her downtown job stopped requiring her to come into the office.

“I was spending a lot of time working from home, paying a lot for rent with a very small space," she said. Taylor now lives in a house in West Bloomfield.

Overall rent in the downtown area is down slightly too. According to data from the Downtown Detroit Partnership, the average rent in the last quarter of 2020 was $1,518, which is down from $1,579 in the first quarter.

“I really do think that the fundamentals are still very strong for Detroit," Larson said.

Many projects are still going up.

“The things that you see construction continuing on are projects that were well underway, they were already financed," he said. “I think the last year has been a bit of a pause because we haven’t been able to take advantage of all of the activities resources and opportunities that downtown presents.

Larson said he's confident in a bounce back, though said it could take a couple of years for downtown to be back to where it was pre-pandemic.

Ruhle told Action News he's glad he moved when he did.

“It just made sense to me to move down here before everything had bounced back, including rent prices," he said.

Additional Coronavirus information and resources:

View a global coronavirus tracker with data from Johns Hopkins University.

See complete coverage on our Coronavirus Continuing Coverage page.

Visit our The Rebound Detroit, a place where we are working to help people impacted financially from the coronavirus. We have all the information on everything available to help you through this crisis and how to access it.