Looking Toward the Future of Detroit’s Rental Housing Landscape

When looking for an apartment to rent in Detroit, there’s no shortage of places to look. From Craigslist, apartments.com, Zillow, to Trulia, they all have troves of information for a renter on a budget. But these are only pieces of Detroit’s rental housing, and Data Driven Detroit set out to get the full picture.

Last year we partnered with Center for Community Progress to gain a better understanding of the physical conditions of the rental properties in the Detroit in hopes of estimating the overall potential need for rental rehabilitation across the city.

Readily available datasets had portions of what we wanted, but didn’t provide the level of detail we required. The Detroit Open Data Portal’s rental dataset is severely incomplete, with only about 3,000 parcels. Next, we examined the standard national dataset from the U.S. Census Bureau called the American Community Survey (ACS). Unfortunately, the ACS data does not include vacant properties when reporting rental properties which were an integral part of our dataset creation and analysis given that our goal was to create an inventory of rental property conditions. To avoid those limitations, we set out to create our own robust dataset. To create a parcel-level dataset, we leveraged existing data from Motor City Mapping (MCM), as well as other sources created since MCM’s completion in 2016. Once compiled, we used a flagging system to identify the locations of 1-4-unit rental properties based on the following criteria:

  • Parcel is identified as a residential structure that does not need boarding
  • Parcel has between 1-4 residential addresses/structures
  • Parcel owner’s address is different from the parcel property address or parcel has been inspected by the city as a rental property
  • Parcel has a tax status of “taxable”, and parcel has been identified as residential by the City’s Assessor

In reviewing the 116,653 parcels, we noted the following characteristics for each:

  • Ownership
    • 7% claim the Primary Residential Exception on their taxes
    • 8% of the addresses are vacant
    • 7% of the properties are investor/speculator owned
      • 8/10 of the top investors are from the Detroit metropolitan area (the other 2 are from California)
    • 8% of the properties are scheduled to be listed in the Tax Foreclosure Auction
  • Structural
    • 99% were built pre-1978, when lead paint was commonly used
    • 3% were considered to be in “Good” condition based on criteria established for Motor City Mapping
    • 3% have received blight violations since 2005 (with investor/speculator-owned accounting for 30% of these violations)
  • Utilities
    • 9% have had their water shut off (with investor/speculator-owned properties accounting for 25.4% of these shut offs)

The development of this rental property dataset offers a first glance at the current conditions and characteristics of Detroit’s rental property landscape. Further developments of additional datasets, such as Certificate of Registration, Certificate of Compliance, Lead Clearance, Certificate of Occupancy, and Detroit Home Loans, may help our future understanding of Detroit’s rental properties and broaden our opportunity for deeper analysis of the available rental inventory. A spatial analysis component may also provide additional insights, highlighting geographic discrepancies across the city.