‘Young, Educated, and Talented’: Downtown Detroit’s Rebranding Strategy and the Eviction of Seniors from Affordable Housing

Authors: Lisa Berglund*, University of California - Los Angeles, Evan Villenueve, University of Michigan, Tam Perry, Wayne State University, Julie Mah, University of Toronto, Claudia Sanford, Senior Housing Preservation-Detroit, Pam Schaeffer, Wayne State University
Topics: Urban and Regional Planning, Urban Geography
Keywords: Gentrification, Detroit, Seniors, Displacement, Eviction
Session Type: Virtual Paper
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


For the past decade, downtown Detroit has experienced a renewed investment interest that has gentrified the area and generated concerns about displacement for socially vulnerable populations. In 2014, over one hundred mostly Black seniors were displaced from Section 8 housing and relocated throughout the city, threatening their housing stability and social support networks. Literature on gentrification often focuses on the risk of cultural and physical displacement of different race and class groups, along with the branding and marketing strategies that enable these impacts, but does not adequately explore the unique challenges for seniors displaced from such environments. This paper analyzes interviews with displaced residents, and branding and planning documents to answer the questions: 1) How have the residents’ physical environment and access to amenities and social supports changed as a result of relocation? 2) How do the needs of this group of seniors relate to the redevelopment and branding goals of Downtown? This work presents the changes in the daily experiences of this group of evicted seniors and their social networks resulting from their displacement. This paper also compares the narratives of seniors to those of branding and redevelopment strategies downtown, finding that often times, seniors are both explicitly and implicitly left out of the redevelopment benefits in this area. In exploring the lesser told experiences of seniors through processes of gentrification, this work also presents ways forward for advocating for seniors who are especially vulnerable to displacement and lack of suitable housing in the context of neighborhood change.

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