Post-Crisis Housing Markets

In late November, the Urban Praxis Workshop hosted a panel “Post-Crisis Housing Markets and Housing Insecurity. Reporters covering housing issues from The Detroit News and the Detroit Free-Press along with scholars and organizer Wade Rathke discussed growing housing insecurity across the country and the conditions faced by those living in Detroit.


Wade Rathke, Chief Organizer ACORN International

Christine MacDonald, The Detroit News

Allie Gross, Detroit Free Press

Eric Seymour, Post Doctoral Fellow, Brown University

Moderator: Josh Akers, Urban Praxis Workshop, University of Michigan-Dearborn

The panel was made possible through support by UM-Dearborn Urban and Regional Studies Program, UM-Dearborn Social Sciences Department, and the UM Detroit School.


Serial Evictor: Michael Kelly and Detroit Property Exchange

Michael Kelly filed 1,160 evictions between 2009 and 2016. That is the equivalent of one eviction filing every 2.5 days. Kelly operates over 40 LLCs and currently owns over 500 properties in the City of Detroit. Kelly’s most prominent company is Detroit Property Exchange which offers low income residents land contracts on dilapidated housing. Houses most of them are eventually evicted from.

Land contracts are common in Detroit.  Traditional financing is often unavailable and housing prices are generally below the lending floor for mortgage brokers and banks. In addition, the longer history of racial discrimination in lending continues to limit credit opportunities for minorities, particularly in poorer areas of the city (NYT 2018).

These factors, combined with a flood of discounted housing in the 2006 mortgage crisis and the tax foreclosure crisis following the financial crisis, positioned speculators like Kelly to exploit Detroit residents. Detroit Property Exchange uses land contracts with large down payments, high interest rates, and clauses that make eviction easier and more likely. In these contracts, a late payment, of even a single day, often results in buyer becoming a month-to-month tenant facing eviction. Unlike a mortgage, and in the way these contracts are currently enforced by Detroit’s 36th District Court, buyers build no equity in the house and lose all of their investment when evicted.

In a 2018, study by my colleague Eric Seymour and I, Kelly had the highest rate of eviction of known contract sellers in Detroit. Between 2005 and 2015, Kelly acquired 777 properties, primarily from the tax foreclosure auction and turned his properties over through eviction 1.5 times between 2009-16. This churn rate does not account for the fact that only about 350 of Kelly’s properties were being offered on land contract or for rent, which is closer to 3 evictions per property.

In 2011, Kelly defended all of his practices telling Christine MacDonald of The Detroit News, “People went out West speculating for gold. That’s what it is. You need speculators. It’s called investors” (MacDonald 2011a).

Unlike many speculators who have one or two methods, Kelly’s holdings and speculative practices are multi-faceted. He is savant at catching wrinkles or errors in the city’s property records. Reports in The Detroit News covered his attempts to demand rent after purchasing a tax foreclosed parcel that included the front door and parking spaces at a strip club. Another time he threatened to evict an operating business from its plant after purchasing a parcel on the shop floor (MacDonald, 2011b, MacDonald 2012).

In addition, Kelly holds a number of parcels near potential development sites, buying low, doing nothing, and waiting to sell to the developer or city at an inflated price. Some of these properties are held by non-profits under names like Detroit Youth Gardens LLC.

Nearly a decade ago, Kelly actively used the Wayne County Tax auction to limit his property tax liability by allowing properties to go into foreclosure and then repurchasing them for the $500 minimum bid. There is more about that process here.

Wayne County’s tax foreclosure auction is the primary pipeline for property acquisition by Kelly. In addition to serving as a means to avoid tax obligations, Kelly purchased occupied housing in tax foreclosure, negotiated a land contract with the former owners still living in the house, and then failed to pay property taxes leading to a second foreclosure (DED 2014).

In 2009, at the height of the foreclosure crisis, undercover television reporters recorded seminars held by Kelly associates showing potential buyers how to take advantage of federal stimulus program. Participants were encouraged to buy derelict properties that Kelly’s companies acquired at auction and apply for the $8000 federal incentive. The incentive was split between the buyer and seller. Buyers were instructed to walk away from the property. The walk away was essential as the stimulus money did not have to be repaid if the house burned or was destroyed within two years (Wolcheck 2009, Oosting 2009).

In all, Kelly is one of the most creative and effective purveyors of misery and blight in the city. Despite the notoriety of his practices the Wayne County Treasurer continues to sell properties to Kelly and his companies at auction. Until recently, the City of Detroit has done very little to intervene in his treatment of tenants or his production of blight. The 36th District Court which hears landlord-tenant actions has ignored the broader legal questions around Detroit Property Exchange land contracts and more often than not sides with Kelly over Detroit residents.


Akers, J and E Seymour (2018) Instrumental Exploitation: Predatory property relations at city’s end. Geoforum 91: 127-140.

Akers, J (2017) A New Urban Medicine Show: On the limits of blight remediation. In Why Detroit Matters, (ed. B. Doucet) Policy Press: Bristol UK.

DED (2014) The fight for Sandi and Kenny.

NYT (2018) The Race-Based Mortgage Penalty. March 7

MacDonald, C. 2011a. Private landowners complicate reshaping of Detroit. The Detroit News, Mar 03.

MacDonald, C. 2011b. Detroit area investor gains from others’ real estate mistakes. The Detroit News, Mar 03.

MacDonald, C. 2012a. Homeowners buy back own property, dodge taxes. The Detroit News, Feb 03.

Oosting, J. 2009. ‘Walk away stimulus plan’ uses tax credit to scam. Detroit:

Wolcheck, R. 2009. Walk Away Stimulus Plan. Hall of Shame. Detroit: WJBK Fox 2.

#dismantlingdetroit Instagram posts sources

#dismantlingdetroit link to sources

Over the course of the project many of the posts include quotes. Below are the links to these references. They are organized under speculator name.

Manuel “Matty” Moroun


Melvin Washington


Michael Kelly


Gideon Pfeffer


Chris Ilitch


Steve Hagerman


Wendy Briggs


Dennis Elliot


Matthew Tatarian

MacDonald, C (2011) Pot bust site tied to land speculator. The Detroit News Aug. 26


Eddie Hobbs


Bert Dearing Jr.


Mikhail Grigoryan



Henry Ford Health Systems


Sameer Beydoun


Gerardo Lozano



Dennis Kefallinos


Jasmine McMorris


Ralph Sachs


Paige Lynn



Odair Ali Murray


Timothy Bakeman


Mohamad Bazzi


Aamir Farooqi


Marin Szumanski


James Green



Darin Mclesky











Skender Izairi



Jeffrey Cusimano




Frank/Frenz/Franz Ivezaj


SM Jagan



Christian Meyer



Gene Carlson


Melanie Zara



Abner Berkman



Xavier Brown



Silvan Radunz



Edward Azar

MacDonald, C (2011) Out-of-state owners seek quick profit: More snap up parcels to flip them, but critics say parcels often are neglected, add to blight. The Detroit News. Feb. 3.


Fernando Palazuelo


Steve Miho



Bill Wheels



Dawn McNamara



Matthew Leavitt



Ali Karem


Tom Rich


Linda Rogers



Bradford Anderson



Fabian Tan


Peter Scherer



Theinnhan Ton



James Haddrill


Deidra Banks-Story



Ronald McCombs



Bill Parker



Clifford Townsend



Gary Hepburn


Igor Belozersky



Justin Ashness



Krystal Kline



Scott Williams


Lee Paul



Tai Man Fai



William Branham



Moses Shepherd


Kwame McKinnon


June Jackson



Razi Noor



Greg Felt


Douglas Dymarkowskil



Eric Norton


#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, references are organized under owner’s last name.
A detailed project statement is available at

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.

Development Creep: 40-years devaluing Detroit’s lower Cass Corridor

For nearly four decades, speculation in the lower Cass Corridor wreaked havoc on residents and shredded the community fabric that held it together. By the early 2000s, the area was largely deserted except for low income apartment buildings. The primary speculator in this neighborhood was the Ilitch family, the owners of a national pizza chain and two major sports franchises. The Ilitch companies bought the first property in the area in 1982, the same year they purchased a hockey team. The subsequent purchases in the 1980s and 1990s, and the intentional neglect of these properties, made it easier to acquire larger numbers of parcels. The competition among speculators increased as it became clear that the lower Cass Corridor was likely the site of a new hockey arena, but those bets on a future development meant there was little incentive to maintain properties in the area.

Meagan Elliott examined the consequences of this type of speculation in her 2018 dissertation, Imagined Boundaries: Discordant Narratives of Place and Displacement in Contemporary Detroit. Elliott’s research focuses on both the process of displacement and residents’ experience of it. She details how city government, quasi-public agencies like the Downtown Development Authority, and wealthy and politically connected developers such as the Ilitches work together. Even more important, her work explores the dissonance of residents’ experience in a multi-decade process of destruction in the lower Cass Corridor.

Screen Shot 2018-09-12 at 9.45.45 AM
Elliott, M (2018) Imagined Boundaries: Discordant Narratives of Place and Displacement in Contemporary Detroit. p 189.

Elliott captures a type of displacement that is often missed in academic work on gentrification and neighborhood change. Essentially, how some speculators/developers manufacture the gap between current value and potential value through a strategy to acquire and then blight. In her interviews in the lower Cass Corridor, residents told Elliott they believed the Ilitches were responsible for waves of vandalism that left broken car windows but no theft that further destabilized the community. Whether or not the Ilitches were directly involved, these longtime residents had a clear understanding of who was to blame for the creeping decline in their neighborhood.

In this case, speculation operates as a long term development practice. The multi-decade process of intentionally devaluing a neighborhood that makes property acquisition cheaper and eliminates obstacles to redevelopment plans. Basically, redevelopment becomes the only option after decades of destruction in a community.

The Ilitches recently opened an $863 million hockey arena in the lower Cass Corridor. It is surrounded by a sea of parking lots. The Ilitch family claims these lots will eventually become “The District Detroit,” a set of five off the shelf urban neighborhoods. Detroit has heard this story before, 25 years earlier when the Ilitches used public money to build a new baseball stadium. The promised entertainment district never materialized. Instead there are a sea of surface parking for events. A revenue generator for the Ilitch’s, but not much else.

The Ilitches appetite for public funding is only rivaled by public officials’ willingness to find increasingly creative ways to give it to them from signing over concession revenues in city-owned venues in the early 1980s, to cobbling together multiple downtown blocks to hand over to the family, to financing a baseball stadium, and a large portion of the hockey arena. The last give away came while the city was in bankruptcy.

The public subsidy of stadiums is always an economic loss for cities (cite). In Detroit, citizens were ahead of the curve in the early 1990s passing an ordinance to prevent public financing of stadiums. Less than five years later, the Detroit City Council overrode that ordinance and then handed over $283 million to the Ilitch family to build a downtown baseball stadium. Less than 25 years later, government officials were ready to try again providing nearly $500 million in incentives for the hockey arena.

Meagan Elliott’s dissertation can be found here:

Further reading on the property practices of the Ilitches or its appetite for public money:



Over the next year, the Urban Praxis Workshop is featuring two speculator owned Detroit properties per week. These images will appear on our social media feeds with an initial post on Instagram @urbanpraxiswork, on the Urban Praxis Workshop Facebook page, and a link to the Instagram post on Twitter. We hope you will follow and add to the conversation on these speculators and their properties. Posts will begin on Sept. 11, 2018.

Each photo includes the property address, speculator name, the companies they do business as, and the number of properties owned in the city. Where available we have included quotes about their practices, a review from a tenant, or the speculators own words on their business. The images were taken in the summer of 2018 by Urban Praxis Workshop members. We drove over 350 driving miles in the city. The work is based on speculator data by Property Praxis. Their data is based on City of Detroit Assessor information and Wayne County Tax Auction sales.

Our intent is to demonstrate that decline is an active practice, that there are actual people, companies, and organizations that produce it and by making those things visible we are adding our work to that of many others in the city to widen avenues for organizing to change it.


The continuing decline of Detroit is driven by exploitation and profiteering in many of the city’s poorest neighborhoods. Real estate speculation is one of the primary methods and one of the most destructive. It extracts the limited financial resources of residents and tears apart the fabric of neighborhoods. The neglect of these houses and commercial structures by bulk owners result in blight and vacancy. The cost of these practices fall on residents who have the misfortune to sign a contract with these speculators, neighbors who watch houses crumble or sit vacant, and the general public who is left with the cost of demolishing these structures once these speculators walk away.

These speculative practices are directly tied to the rising rates of eviction in the City of Detroit. Low income housing markets were changed by the financial crisis. A variety property schemes relying on land purchase agreements, such as land contracts, have become commonplace. Eviction is a key component of these strategies. It is not merely the result of the precarity of poverty. It is a feature in this system of exploitation.

Where did this come from:

This market did not emerge on its own. It was made possible by a mortgage collapse that changed ownership patterns, a housing crisis in cities like Detroit where affordable quality housing is in limited supply, and the actions and inaction of government at all levels to intervene in protecting their most vulnerable residents while enabling those with means to exploit them.

What are some of the factors that led to this:

These practices are enabled by the Wayne County Treasurer and the annual tax auction. Wayne County has avoided bankruptcy by collecting millions in revenues and fees from low income residents behind on property taxes. The volume of tax foreclosures was higher because the City of Detroit over-assessed homeowners. The City of Detroit made it incredibly difficult for low income residents to receive the property tax poverty exemption they qualified for. These practices emerged from the financial crisis when government sponsored agencies such as Fannie Mae chose to sell bank foreclosures in bulk in Detroit and other struggling Great Lakes cities to speculators. Hundreds of millions in public money has been doled out to private contractors for demolition. Much of that money was intended to keep people in their homes during the mortgage crisis. The State of Michigan adopted policies that made it difficult for anyone to qualify for these funds. The City of Detroit and Quicken Loans lobbied the Obama Administration to use this money for demolition.

This project is an attempt to make the work of academic researchers and housing activists and advocates accessible to a wider audience.

The Urban Praxis Workshop is a community-driven research cooperative housed at the University of Michigan-Dearborn.  For more information on our work you can find us at or contact us at

Animating the Housing Crisis – video


In 2017, we had the pleasure of working with Detroit videographer and filmmaker Justin Ivory and Space Monkey Productions. Ivory is working on short documentary on the housing crisis in Detroit and focused some of his work on Detroit Eviction Defense and the case of the Bishop who lost his house in a foreclosure scam.

Though the documentary is still in progress, Ivory shared this short animation drawn from our research at the Urban Praxis Workshop and work of Detroit Eviction Defense, a mutual aid organization dedicated to working with and organizing those fighting to for their place.


Title: Nobody Moves
(Short Documentary, in progress 2018)
Director: Justin Ivory
Production: Space Monkey Productions
Posted with permission of Justin Ivory and Space Monkey Productions
All rights Justin Ivory and Space Monkey Productions

Race and Region: It’s still standing but no one is standing still

The Urban Praxis Workshop and the University of Michigan-Dearborn hosted a community forum on Race and Region in late March. It was a discussion that drew on the power of legacies and their monuments, the necessity of new metaphors in engaging white supremacy, the resonance of past experiences and present engagements with racial division in Southeast Michigan and beyond, and how segregation can be defined in part as a hoarding of resources.

A story map on Orville Hubbard and Dearborn that complements the forum is here.

The forum and map were created by Urban and Regional Studies students in the Fall 2017 Intro course.

Forum Panelists:

Stephen Henderson, Journalist, Host WDET’s Detroit Today.

Namira Islam, Co-Founder and Executive Director, Muslim ARC

John Patrick Leary, Associate Professor of English, Wayne State University

Lester Spence, Associate Professor of Political Science and Africana Studies, Johns Hopkins University

Moderator: Joshua Akers, Assistant Professor Geography and Urban and Regional Studies, University of Michigan-Dearborn


Infrastructures of Violence and Inequality


The city of Dearborn continues to wrestle with its racist reputation nearly 40 years after its 15 term segregationist Mayor Orville Hubbard died. This struggle is personified in the city officials insistence on keeping a life-size bronze statue of Hubbard on display in public space.

Nearly 200 people gathered at the University of Michigan-Dearborn to hear from a panel of academics, journalists, and activists for a forum to discuss the Hubbard statue and the ways in which race shapes and continues to shape the region. The discussion began with the monument to Orville Hubbard now outside the Dearborn Historical Society but quickly turned to a discussion of the infrastructures of violence and inequality that persist and the need for points of disruption not only at an individual level but of the system of white supremacy.


What to do with Hubbard’s statue led to a deeper conversation on the infrastructure of racism and its persistence. Each of the panelists engaged with the ways in which the past is maintained in the present as it is represented in Hubbard, embodied in the way one teaches their child how to drive slowly through Dearborn just as their mother had 34-years prior, or losing access to the Dearborn Public Library in junior high because of the color of your skin.


As Lester Spence put it, “racism is a political process of hoarding resources.” It is not about the attitudinal interaction but power. The ability to provide good schools, public amenities like parks and library through tax revenue and the governing structures to prevent those outside from accessing it defined Hubbard’s legacy.

For the panelists, what Hubbard, and his 15 terms as mayor represented, were not the infrastructure of services he built within the city of Dearborn but the lengths to which he would go to prevent others from accessing those services.

The forum was conceived of and planned by students in the Intro to Urban and Regional Studies class at the University of Michigan-Dearborn. Panelist were Lester Spence, Stephen Henderson, John Pat Leary, and Namira Islam.

Urban and Regional Studies students built an interactive story map to accompany the forum. You can find it by clicking here or on this site under the project tab.

For more on Hubbard check out David Good’s Orvie: The Dictator of Dearborn. It is out of print. The local library is your best bet.


On Speculation and Organizing

“In Detroit, land contracts outpace all other types of lending instruments for housing. … These instruments are incredibly flexible and allow for the possiblity of homeownership, but that flexibility also offers a lot of opportunity for exploitation.”

In late December, Urban Praxis’ Josh Akers was the guest on Wade’s World, a weekly broadcast on KABF in Little Rock focused on organizing and poor people’s campaigns around the world.

The topic of this show, hosted by longtime organizer Wade Rathke, ranged from tax foreclosures to land contracts and evictions and the work of organizations opposing speculators and displacement through direct action in Detroit.

You can listen the full episode here.

Akers and Seymour (2018) Instrumental exploitation: Predatory property relations at city’s end. Geoforum 91, 127-140.