Detroit group working to break barriers to homeownership through land-trust model

Posted at 5:45 AM, Jul 07, 2022

DETROIT (WXYZ) — A local organization is finding solutions to Detroit's housing crisis. 

Only about one in five Detroiters who complete home-buyer education with agencies certified by the Department of Housing and Urban Development were able to purchase a home, according to a study by the University of Michigan. Poor credit was cited as one of the largest barriers to homeownership.

That's where Dream of Detroit comes in. The organization is working to break down those barriers through a 'land-trust' model. 

"The trust continues to own the property and leases it out at a 99-year lease. They own their home, they can make whatever improvements they want to it," said Mark Crain, the executive director of Dream of Detroit. "They simply agree when it is time to sell that they cap how much they can make in profit."

Crain's grandfather opened the first black-owned locksmith shop in the city, just minutes from where he's rehabbing homes.

The land trust does not belong to Dream of Detroit. It's a grassroots entity according to Crain, with a board of residents and business owners.

"We live in the zip code 48238, which had the slowest rebound in housing values," said Crain."There are homes on this block, even though we've rehabbed four or six homes, that still haven't reached their full 2008 values."

Dawud Clark will soon be a beneficiary of Dream of Detroit's work. He's an ex-con who dealt with years of rejection over bad credit and a criminal history.

"I ended living in a hotel for a while," said Clark.

Eventually, he met Crain, who helped him move into a transitional home for formerly incarcerated men. The program is known as Project Homecoming. Clark is now the manager.

He's looking forward to his future and the future of this neighborhood

"We are going to have families here, we are going to have groceries stores here, a restaurant, you know it's exciting," said Clark.

Dream of Detroit acquired a property off of Woodrow Wilson from the Wayne County tax auction. Crain says they were prepared to pay about $32,000, what they felt the land was worth, but it ended up dishing out $72,000.

They were able to come up with the difference in just 48 hours, thanks to a crowdfunding campaign.

"We can't move too slow in this work. The vultures are here. (I) hate to use a bad word, but the speculators are here the folks that are bidding way too much for property that they plan to sit on for 20 years are here," said Crain.

The land will be home to Dream of Detroit's very first commercial property.

"We think we can bring businesses back to Woodrow Wilson street and really line it again and make it a thriving commercial district," said Crain. "We think we can make residents in this neighborhood feel fully empowered in a way they didn't when the city was saying this neighborhood needs to be right-sized."

Work on Clark's home will start in about three months. He's also building a foundation in his personal life. He just got engaged.

Crain says the land-trust model ensures the neighborhood remains affordable and hopefully discourages gentrification.

"We are talking about also, making sure as we paint a picture of the future of this neighborhood, that it is always inclusive to the people that sustained it through its hardest times," said Crain.

Crain says seven out of 10 folks in land-trust programs are first-time homeowners. In total, Dream of Detroit rehabbed 12 homes with hopefully many more to come.