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Fighting gentrification with equitable development in Detroit

Oct 17, 2017

Sonya Mays doesn't like saying the "g word" – gentrification, that is. 

But if we're talking about it, she says her company Develop Detroit might just have the solution. 

“We’re saying that we believe that there’s a way to be very intentional and thoughtful and to partner with particularly residents who have been in a community the longest. We’re saying there’s an approach here that can be taken that doesn’t directly lead to rapid displacement," Mays said. 

It's called equitable development, and she says cities like Harlem and Washington, D.C., have used it to combat gentrification with mostly positive results. 

In Detroit, Mays said it would look something like this: renovating an old apartment building with new elements like an early childhood education center or a grocery store, or constructing a new apartment building with street-level retail properties. 

“I’m a big believer in the idea that healthy neighborhoods are diverse and inclusive neighborhoods," Mays said. “I’m a big believer that, particularly in a city where there’s a myriad of different experience levels and socioeconomic settings, that we really ought to be looking at building communities that are accessible to a broad group, and not just those who happen to be more or less on the affluent end of the spectrum."

Her company has a zero percent displacement policy that they're already putting into action in their most recent renovation to an apartment complex in the North End neighborhood of the city. Her employees have started to work with current residents to make sure each one either has a new or renovated apartment within their economic means to move into when the project is complete.

“One of the very first lenses that my organization uses when we approach projects is whether or not a particular project is going to stabilize and grow and provide opportunity more broadly for the neighborhood and for the local community," Mays said. 

Mays said future projects are slated for the Midtown and Eastern Market neighborhoods of Detroit. Their work, at least for the next two to three years, will be partially funded by companies like JPMorgan Chase, Ford Field, and the Kresge Foundation.

Listen above for the full conversation.

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