Lansing and Detroit organizations work to address the need for single-family housing

This article is part of the Block by Block series, supported by FHLBank Indianapolis, IFF, and the Community Economic Development Association (CEDAM), the Block by Block series follows small-scale minority-driven development and affordable housing issues in the state of Michigan.
Detroit residents at Building Community Value education session.As the typical family changes throughout history, so do the statewide housing needs. Today, the average household size, according to The Statewide Housing Plan, is 2.14 people, and the median household income is $59,584. The dreams of yesteryear to have a family of four residing in a home nestled behind a white-picket fence are no longer relatable nor feasible for many.

As housing prices increase and the availability of safe, accessible units decreases, many communities are looking inward to find a solution to the housing crisis. According to the Statewide Housing Plan, the average home sales price increased 84% in Michigan from January 2013 to October 2021, compared to the national average of 48%. With an aging housing stock and 47% of Michigan housing units built prior to 1970, there is a pressing need to rehab and preserve housing across the state. 
Chase Cantrell
Founded in 2016, a Detroit nonprofit dedicated to facilitating real estate development projects across neighborhoods, Building Community Value (BCV) helps build generational wealth for Detroit residents. 

“We provide real estate training, technical assistance, funding, and networking opportunities,” says Chase Cantrell, BCV executive director. “The goal is to help people who are residents of the city to gain ownership over property and also understand what it means to be a developer and how to move through developing.”

Cantrell says Detroit is unique in that most of the city’s housing stock is single-family, which isn’t typical of other U.S. cities. A lot of these single-family homes were built prior to 1978, which means many have lead paint. As many of these unsafe homes are demolished, similarly-sized units are not replacing the former units. 

BCV provides tools and resources to residents, educating them on how to acquire property, rent, or sell property. They also work with local professionals and outside organizations to increase their reach across the community, including the Detroit Land Bank Authority, architects, contractors, accountants, property managers, and other experts.

Daisha Martin, BCV manager of technical assistance
One training option BCV offers, the Better Buildings, Better Blocks curriculum focuses on small-scale real estate development for Detroit, Hamtramck, and Highland Park residents. Many of the participants come into the program with a property already in mind.

“If you're living in a Detroit neighborhood, you're probably seeing a vacant house either across the street from you, down the street, or somewhere in your neighborhood,” Cantrell says. “Many people are coming with a goal in mind of how they get property access to a particular site, and they want to figure out the means to revitalize that. One of our primary goals is to make sure that no one ever invests the dollars with property unless they know the economics of the project. How much does it cost to acquire? How much will it cost to rehab? Is it possible to rent or sell it at the end?”

To avoid more people losing money and potentially property bought inexpensively through the Detroit Land Bank Authority, this curriculum helps set the stage for success. Since it launched in 2016, 400 participants have completed the program. Typically, the training takes place twice a year, providing 20 people with 28 hours in the classroom.

Chase Cantrell and Monique Becker, BCV manager of program implementation.
While some development in other cities calls for national corporations or large-scale developers to swoop in and create change, in Detroit, residents are making the big change, one or two small properties at a time. 

“There’s a really great report that Detroit Future City put out a couple of years ago, called Understanding the Rental Landscape: a Profile Analysis of Detroit Landlords to Inform Lead-Safe Housing Policy, and they showed that 70% of the landlords in the city only own one or two properties,” Cantrell says. “These are residents of the city, these are our neighbors, not necessarily professionalized in the sense of having any corporate ownership, LLCs, corporations, etc.”

While new safety regulations and certifications mean well — to ensure safe housing units, for some mom-and-pop landlords — these can be costly and create even more hardships. 

“We really want to make sure they have the right resources to be the best developers and landlords they can be,” Cantrell says. “On the front end, they are creating quality rehabilitations, but on the back end, they also understand that process and this doesn’t become a burden on them.”

Building Community Value BCV provides tools and resources to Detroit residents.
Although funding is available through state and city subsidies and resources, there are fewer opportunities for small landlords with single-family or duplex rehab projects — 72% of Michigan’s housing stock are single-family detached structures. Many residents resort to using their own money and equity to rehab homes. New pilot programs are tailoring assistance programs for small-scale developers. Although this is a good shift in the right direction, Cantrell says it’s crucial that Detroit formulate a specific plan for its single-family housing, much like its clear plan for maintaining and building affordable, new multi-family housing. 

“We need a clear, single-family strategy, which we don’t have,” he says. “The most important thing for the city of Detroit is to actually have a plan that allows us to know what the city’s priorities are, but also to know if there are any of these or other resources that the city can provide. Right now, there just isn’t that much guidance or support when you’re doing a single-family project.”

Janell O'Keefe, BCV technical assistant, shares information with Detroit residents.
Cantrell would love to see more partnerships between the state and the city and government subsidies, especially when it comes to lead remediation. Oftentimes, lead abatement costs more than what the housing structure is worth. 

“To me, that’s not just a quality of housing issue, but also a health issue,” he says. “I think that’s probably the second most important thing that the state and city can work on.” 

To avoid costly rehabs, many unsafe homes are being torn down, not inherently a negative. However, the problem is the low number of units being rebuilt in their place. 

“We’re demolishing more than we’re saving,” Cantrell says. “When you demolish a single-family home, we’re replacing those units with smaller, new housing units like studios and one-bedrooms. We’re demolishing places for families to live, but we’re not replacing them in kind. I think [we need] a clear vision for what family housing looks like in the city of Detroit, making sure that we’re preserving and building for families.”

CAHP fills Greater Lansing gaps

Capital Area Housing Partnership (CAHP), a 501(c)(3) nonprofit with over 30 years of experience, leads neighborhood revitalization efforts and creates and preserves affordable housing options throughout the greater Lansing region. 

“Our specific target population at CAHP is the low-to-moderate income household, typically 80% of our local area median income or below,” says Curtis Audette, CAHP director of marketing and communications. “We also focus on workforce housing, which is 60 to 120% area median income.”

Josh Bails, BCV technical assistant

Audette says CAHP is “trying to play catch-up.” The Great Recession’s stalling of housing developments from 2008 to 2012 is one cause of the short supply of housing in Lansing. 

“There are certainly not enough single-family units, or housing units in general, to meet the demand,” he says. “Our estimate is that the Lansing region is about 20,000 housing units short that meet our need and future demand that we see for our region.”

CAHP aims to fill the missing gaps in core neighborhoods by building attainable homeownership opportunities, providing down payment assistance for first-time buyers, and laying the foundation for generational wealth. The CAHP tool library allows residents to borrow equipment for free to work on house-improvement projects as well as free housing and financial counseling services by HUD-certified counselors. 

“We take a very comprehensive approach to housing,” Audette says. “We’re with our clients and residents every step of the way throughout their housing journey.” 

Typically, CAHP constructs three or four new, single-family projects a year, subsidized through government funding and donations. The houses range from two to three bedrooms and include one to one-and-a-half bathrooms. Applicants must be first-time homebuyers and fall within specific income limitations. For each house to be built, CAHP typically receives 10 to 20 applications from people hoping to fulfill their dream of becoming a homeowner.

While the median home price is $173,277 in Michigan, the average cost to build a 1,200 to 1,400 square foot home averages $250,000 to $300,000. CAHP typically sells them for $130,000 to $150,000. An average two-bedroom rental unit in Lansing goes for $1,200 to $1,300 per month while a CAHP mortgage might cost $700 to 800 monthly. Audette says this not only saves families money, but helps lay the foundation for wealth across neighborhoods. 

“It’s certainly more affordable, but it’s also an asset,” Audette says. “As you pay down your mortgage, you’re building that equity as well. You’re retaining something. You have something of value.”

Sarah Spohn is a Lansing native, but every day finds a new, interesting person, place, or thing in towns all over Michigan, leaving her truly smitten with the mitten. She received her degrees in journalism and professional communications and provides coverage for various publications locally, regionally, and nationally — writing stories on small businesses, arts and culture, dining, community, and anything Michigan-made. You can find her in a record shop, a local concert, or eating one too many desserts at a bakery. If by chance, she’s not at any of those places, you can contact her at

Photos by Doug Coombe.

Supported by FHLBank Indianapolis, IFF, and the Community Economic Development Association (CEDAM), the Block by Block series follows small-scale minority-driven development and affordable housing issues in the state of Michigan.
Enjoy this story? Sign up for free solutions-based reporting in your inbox each week.