Religious Institution Ownership in Detroit

Illustration of four types of Detroit religious institutions - a cathederal, synagogue, mosque, and storefront church, over a map of Detroit council districts and the text "Detroit Religious Insitution Ownership"

Recently, D3 received a request for data about the number of places of worship and church-owned properties in the City of Detroit.  Many churches in Detroit own additional property, such as lots adjacent to their building, or operate religious housing coalitions to help address housing instability in their neighborhoods.

Graphic with the text "5,027 Parcels owned by religious institutions" and a pie chart showing "59.4% vacant lots and structures"

We identified two different types of properties in this analysis: (1) places of worship, which are identified by the Detroit Police Department as actual structures utilized for religious purposes and (2) other property owned by a religious institution, which we identified by utilizing Detroit’s assessor data.   Overall, we found a combined 5,027 parcels owned by religious institutions, including places of worship and other types of properties.  Of these parcels, 55.4% are vacant lots and 4.0% are vacant structures.  Building permits have been pulled on 14.4% of the parcels in the last 3 years.  Nearly 7% of the parcels currently owned by religious institutions have been purchased in the past three years.

Identification Process

To identify these parcels, we utilized a dataset identifying Drug Free Zones in the City of Detroit.  This dataset includes a churches designation, which identified over 1,500 churches and places of worship in the city.  After doing a spot check of the data, we are comfortable assuming that most of these identified parcels are actual buildings utilized for worship by various religions and denominations.  Based on the Drug Free Zone designation, there are 1,578 parcels identified as places of worship in Detroit.

Using the city’s assessor file, we then identified the named owners and addresses of these parcels.  Next we found all other properties in the assessor’s file that had the same owner name OR owner address as an already identified place of worship.   We did a third query of the assessor file to see if there were additional parcels that matched on any newly identified owner name or address compared to the second round and identified additional parcels where the name or address matched. For example, in the first round, Morning View Baptist Church was identified as an owner of 13 parcels.  In the 2nd round of queries, we found an additional parcel registered to the same address but with the owner name being “Morning View Missionary Baptist Chu”. It didn’t originally match, but can be included in the dataset as owned by a church due to the matching owner address as well as the similar owner name.  In addition to the religious institutions identified in the Drug Free Zones, we identified nearly 3,500 parcels that are likely owned by a religious institution.

Religious Institutions by Council District

In order to make comparisons between council districts, we utilize a per capita rate, which measures the number of people per each place of worship- or religious institution-owned parcel.  For more information about per capita data, read this blog post. The spread of places of worship in Detroit does not mirror the population spread, resulting in council districts having between 1.7 and 3.5 religious institutions per 1,000 people. The City of Detroit has 2.5 religious institutions per 1,000 residents overall.

District 5 has the 5th highest population but the highest rate of places of worship per 1,000 people.  Meanwhile, District 1, with the highest population in the city, has the lowest rate of places of worship per 1,000 people.


Map of Detroit council districts showing district 7 with 4.3 religious institutions per 1,000 people and district 2 at 13.4

The analysis identified an additional 3,449 parcels that were identified as having an owner with the same name or address as a place of worship.  These might be vacant lots near the places of worship, religious-based housing cooperatives, and other various uses for parcels.  The spread of these additional parcels ranges from 2.7 to 9.9 per 1,000 people.  District 5 continues to have the highest rate of religious institution-owned parcels while District 1 has the lowest.  Overall, the City of Detroit has 5.4 additional religious institution-owned parcels per 1,000 people.

Council District 5 includes the Woodward Corridor where many religious organizations have invested in various housing efforts.  For example, the Cathedral of the Most Blessed Sacrament is working to develop a vacant lot into a mixed use development with affordable housing located right across Woodward from the Cathedral in this district.

Table showing religious institution ownership by parcel district with population, places of worship, and vacant parcels

Characteristics of Religious Institution-Owned Properties

We classified parcels as residential based on codes provided by the city’s assessor file either based on property class or use codes. We also assign a parcel to residential if HUD designates the parcels as multi family housing. Citywide, about 10% of places of worship are identified as likely residential, which could account for a variety of situations where a pastor or other clergy live on site in a rectory or other type of residential property.  About 60% of the other parcels owned by religious institutions are identified as residential or multi-use. This ranges from 52.4% in District 3 to 69.9% in District 4.

Table showing residential or multi-use parcels owned by religious institutions by counci district in Detroit

Overall, nearly 55% of the religious institution-owned properties are vacant parcels, meaning they have no structure on the parcel (this would include parking lots).  The places of worship parcels are significantly less likely to be vacant at 1.5%, while the other properties owned by religious institutions are 80.4% vacant land. At the District level, vacant lot rates for other religious institution-owned parcels range from 63.1% in District 4 to 90.1% in District 5.

Table showing vacant lots owned by religious institutions by council district in Detroit

Looking specifically at parcels with structures, 6.0% of places of worship have vacant structures and 16.9% of other owned parcels have vacant structures. This also varies between Council Districts.  The lowest rate of vacant structures is in District 1, with 9.1% of other parcels owned by religious institutions are reported to have a vacant structure.  The highest rate is in District 4 where 22.3% of parcels with structures are vacant.

Table showing vacant structure parcels owned by religious institutions by council district in Detroit


Do you have questions about religious institutions that we haven’t answered? You can submit requests for more information on any topic via an AskD3 request.

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