Hazel Park

How Hazel Park's housing market continues to evolve with its residents

When Tony Ross first purchased his Hazel Park home in 2017, then just 26 years old, he figured that his corner lot on Couzens Avenue would make for a good starter home; something that he could flip, make a little money on, and use to purchase something in one of the neighboring cities popular with the young and creative, somewhere like Ferndale or Detroit. But today, just seven years later and now as a 33-year-old, Ross isn’t so sure. He likes it here. He’s got complaints just like anyone that’s lived anywhere for awhile — less dispensaries and more restaurants, he says — but, all in all, Hazel Park has become home.

Tony Ross at his Hazel Park home.“I guess the long and short of it is that I moved here with the intent of flipping it in some time span. And like, ‘Oh, my home value has gone up a considerable amount.’ But I've come to find that I like where I'm at,” he says. “It's just been a really good few years.”

By day, Ross works as a maintenance technician at a local brewery. By night, he works as an audio engineer for events and concerts. He also makes drum and bass, a genre of electronic dance music, under the name Dewey Decibel. He’s part of Hydra Records, a Detroit-based EDM record label and collective that’s expanding to other states, and performs next on Saturday, March 2, at Detroit Threads in Hamtramck as part of the recently revived Hamtramck Blowout music festival.

Ross pretty much personifies Hazel Park right now — where maintenance technicians and artists collide. It’s more affordable to buy a house here than Detroit and Ferndale, but centrally located to where it’s easy to get just about anywhere in metro Detroit in as much as a half-an-hour’s time. And it’s got its own vibe here, he says, one where it’s okay to be both blue collar and no collar alike.

“Hazel Park is definitely blue collar and I come from that line of work,” Ross says. “I've been in the maintenance field for like 10 years now. I've worked blue collar jobs my whole life. So I totally get that vibe. But also, every time when I go out on the weekend here, I run into somebody in the music scene, somebody in the brewery scene. It's a very inclusive area in that regard. And then almost all of my neighbors are original homeowners and they take care of their houses and they're super friendly. I've just had nothing but good experiences, really.”

You hear something akin to “It’s like Ferndale but affordable” a lot around these parts, and though Hazel Park is distinctly itself, it’s easy to pick up on what people are saying: centrally located, a nascent bar and nightlife scene that continues to pick up speed, increased investment in art and public spaces – but, you know, more affordable. Which is all relative, of course, but go back 15 to 20 years and it was Ferndale that was being called a more affordable Royal Oak. Could Hazel Park be next in line?

Derek Werenka, owner of M1 Realty.Derek Werenka thinks so. In the real estate business since 2003, Werenka has sold more than 1,800 homes in his career. He opened his own company, the Ferndale-based M1 Realty, in 2014. He regularly has listings in Hazel Park and has experienced the changing perceptions of the city firsthand. For those buyers looking for something in Detroit or Ferndale, he says that it’s often Hazel Park that ends up being the right fit.

“I like it because it is affordable, even though it definitely is trending upward. But honestly, I look at it as an affordable alternative to Ferndale because you know what we're looking at with most of the buyer pool that we deal with in this area,” Werenka says.

“People started off wanting to be in Detroit, then they realized that there aren't many homes available if you're a $200,000-FHA-approved buyer. And then the next place they look is Ferndale, and if you're in that price point your options in Ferndale are pretty limited. So you go to the next town over and you got Hazel Park. You have essentially similar types of homes, in terms of construction, but as just a much more affordable option. You're still close to downtown Ferndale and all the cool spots there. And in Hazel park those places that didn't used to be there are there now.”

The housing stock here reaches back about 100 years or so, a hodgepodge of styles that tracks the various building designs of each decade since. A farmhouse might be next to a bungalow which might be next to a mid-century ranch. The infill development happening today continues that tradition of fitting in new-builds where they can, with forward-thinking designs sometimes serving as a punctuation mark along a block of more traditional styles. It continues to diversify, too, with developments like the Robertson Homes-built Park 54 townhomes on Woodward Heights. Efforts to introduce more mixed-use buildings are ongoing.

Tim McKee, owner of Hazel Perk Cafe.

When we spoke with Tim McKee about his relatively new coffee shop Hazel Perk Cafe, he spoke about his decision to open on John R Road. He’s a homeowner here too, having purchased a home just blocks from his cafe in 2016. It was his experience living in the neighborhood and seeing improvements being made by residents, property owners, and the city itself that convinced him Hazel Park was the right place to do business. As he says, “Hazel Park is up and coming. Ask any real estate agent. It’s not a myth.”

Werenka, for his part, credits the city-led efforts to make Hazel Park more attractive to homebuyers and businesses beginning about a decade ago, give or take, including programs to combat blight, making streets and parks more pedestrian-friendly, and incentivizing property owners to renovate their buildings. Old homes are being renovated here at a pace that he hasn’t seen in the 20 years that he’s been in the business, he says, opining that there’s more pride in Hazel Park home ownership today than there has been in decades.

“The seeds that were planted five to 10 years ago are bearing fruit now,” Werenka says. “We had some new construction that was built in 2003 through ‘07 and then there was nothing as the recession hit. But now there's a lot of these really nice infill properties that they're building – builders wouldn't be building these homes if they didn't know that there were people ready to buy them. And the townhomes are the same way; you didn't see stuff like that happening here for the longest time. It's just a testament to the city being on the right track.”

Enjoy this story? Sign up for free solutions-based reporting in your inbox each week.

Read more articles by MJ Galbraith.

MJ Galbraith is a writer and musician living in Detroit. Follow him on Twitter @mikegalbraith.