Speculation and the City “It’s not a bug, it’s a feature.”

Property speculators own nearly 20 percent of all property in Detroit. The parcels caught up in this web of speculation are spread across the city and come in a variety of forms. At their worst these owners are buying and selling houses that rapidly decline into vacant and abandoned shells.

Too often neighborhoods and the public are forced to bare the cost of these activities from the daily reality of physical deterioration, to declining property values, and increasingly costly demolitions. The recent mortgage crisis created a large inventory for speculation while most government response at the federal, state and local level is dedicated demolishing the aftermath of these activities. What is not addressed is the production and producers of these conditions.

In Detroit, speculation is the third largest category of ownership after individual owners (50 percent) and government agencies (30 percent). Property Praxis is a visual representation of these speculative activities. The intent of this project is to show who is speculating on properties across the city and where these are located. It is a tool for understanding and action. Property Praxis uses data from the City of Detroit Assessor to identify these property owners and their holdings across the city.* It allows you to see both the size of a speculators holdings and where these properties are located. In addition, it identifies the owners or members of limited liability companies (LLC). These organizations are shell companies that protect owners’ personal assets, such as their own house, in case they are sued or go bankrupt, but it also can hide a person’s identity. An exhaustive review of records filed with the state of Michigan or the state where an LLC was incorporated identified over 98 percent of owners or members.

If you are in Detroit and would like to meet up please let us know. If you are interested in building a similar project in your city it is open source and available to you.

*The City Assessor labels the current data 2015. We refer to this as “City Year” as it is clear from the analysis that not all records are up to date. There is a lag time in recording and city record keeping. Once the 2016 data is analyzed the site will be updated.


Published by Alex B. Hill

Alex works to address the impacts of health disparities from chronic diseases through data analysis and community engagement strategies. His personal research is focused on food access, health disparities, and racial justice. Alex's projects and research focus on the need for greater community involvement at all levels and specifically highlights the intersections of power, privilege, and race.

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