Detroit Future City (DFC), the think-and-do tank focused on advancing economic equity and growing the Black middle class in Detroit, released the “Keeping Your Family Home: Addressing the Challenges of Inherited Properties in Detroit” report to detail the scale of family-owned properties in Detroit inherited through generations without formal legal proof of ownership.

“Homeownership is both an important vehicle for building generational wealth and a place to provide stability for a family” said Anika Goss, DFC CEO. “As Detroit works to grow the middle class and close economic equity gaps, we need a better understanding of how to preserve and increase homeownership, and ‘Keeping Your Family Home’ contains critical data to help stakeholders develop the programming we need.”

The report examines the issue of so-called heirs’ properties – homes passed down through generations without a legal transfer of property to a surviving relative. The properties identified in this report are those whose owners were listed in the 2023 City’s Tax Assessors’ data but had died between 2014 and 2022.

Key metrics that illustrate the scale of the problem in Detroit:

  • There are more than 5,500 heirs’ properties in the city worth $270 million, indicating the potential for significant loss of wealth for long-time Detroiters if the issue persists.
  • There were 215 heirs’ properties in census tracts that had a median home sale price of at least $150,000 as of 2021.
  • About 9% (496) of heirs’ properties in the city are at immediate risk of tax foreclosure this year.

Heirs’ properties are found in the highest concentration in the Boynton, Bagley, Aviation Sub and Schaefer 7/8 Lodge neighborhoods. People living in heirs’ properties may not even be aware that they do not legally own their home until they find themselves looking to access crucial homeownership resources. It can be difficult, or even impossible, for an individual living in an Heirs’ Property to sell the property, borrow money against its equity, or obtain homeowners insurance as these homes often face barriers to accessing important city and county financial aid programs.

“Detroit Future City’s research reveals an important but underreported vulnerability to housing stability in Detroit,” said Laura Grannemann, Executive Director of the Gilbert Family Foundation. “Too many Detroit residents are losing out on the stability and equity of homeownership because they lack the legal resources to navigate the complex probate process. We look forward to working with stakeholders around the city to act on these findings.”

The research was also supported by a collaboration of non-profit, philanthropic and public stakeholders including United Community Housing Coalition, Michigan Legal Services, Lakeshore Legal Aid, the Gilbert Family Foundation, the City of Detroit and the Wayne County Treasurers Office.

Click here to view the full “Keeping Your Family Home Report.”

About Detroit Future City

Detroit Future City is a think-and-do tank that coordinates strategies, actions, and resources to catalyze long-term revitalization, improve economic equity and enhance quality of life in Detroit. The organization is organized into three departments – Land Use and Sustainability, Community and Economic Development, and the Center for Equity, Engagement, and Research – with a 17-member staff and 16-member board of directors.

DFC was launched in May 2013 to advance the recommendation of the DFC Strategic Framework, a 50-year vision for the City of Detroit. In January 2016, Detroit Future City became an independent nonprofit.

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