#dismantlingdetroit Data and Methods


Two properties a week between September 2018 and September 2019.
70 speculators are included
105 properties are featured
References for quotes in posts may be found at urbanpraxis.org, references are organized under owner’s last name.
A detailed project statement is available at urbanpraxis.org

City of Detroit Assessor 2017
Property Praxis 2017
LexisNexis Public Records


Over the past three years, we have reviewed over 500,000 public records related to limited liability companies (LLCs) to identify ownership within these companies. Individuals named self-identified in these documents as an executive or member of the LLC.

We have built a database of ownership and companies based on public records and the use of proprietary databases that compile public records nationwide. Our information is only as accurate as these records.

An issue in working with property data is that patterns and practices are more easily identified at larger scales, i.e. cities, counties, states … The more granular the level of analysis the higher the likelihood of errors. This is due in large part to the dynamic nature of property markets (the speed and ease of exchange, particularly with low cost property) and the arcane rules and sluggish bureaucracy that catalogues transactions.


We identified properties using the 2017 Property Praxis data set. This data set catalogues speculative holdings in the city of Detroit. Property Praxis defines speculation as owners with five or more properties in various states of repair without a taxable address in the neighborhood.

The Property Praxis data set is built from an analysis of the 2017 City of Detroit Assessor file. It also includes property sales in the Wayne County Tax Foreclosure auction which the City Assessor has not updated since 2014.

For LLCs with a volume of properties to qualify as a speculators, owners were identified by reviewing documents related to that company available in the State of Michigan’s LARA database. When LLC information was not available in this database, the LLCs home state database was searched. In addition to utilizing publicly accessible databases we have also subscribed to LexisNexis Public Records which compiles public records across the United States.

In cases where ownership is in doubt, we have cross-referenced the City of Detroit Assessor data with sales records from RealtyTrac through 2015 and CoreLogic through 2017.

Properties were identified by volume of ownership. Two-thirds of the speculators featured in this series own 100 or more properties. Properties for high volume owners were further narrowed by cross referencing addresses with the blight ticket data available on the City of Detroit Open Data Portal. In the case of small volume owners these properties were kept because they were representative of all of these owners property holdings and their LLC names referenced investment.

We photographed properties between late June and mid-August 2018. In all, we covered over 350 driving miles in the City of Detroit.


Published by Josh Akers

I research and write about urban and economic geography. I teach at the University of Michigan-Dearborn.

%d bloggers like this: