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Losing Home: Housing Instability and Availability in Detroit

Download PDF of the full policy brief

By Jennifer Erb-Downward and Safiya Merchant


Housing stability is critical to the prosperity and well-being of cities and their residents. Without stable housing, it has been widely shown that children are more likely to struggle in school, adults are more likely to lose employment, and individuals — both young and old — are more likely to suffer from poor health outcomes. While the negative consequences of housing instability are clear, what is harder to assess is the full extent of instability experienced by residents in communities. This is particularly true in the City of Detroit, where multiple data sources point to high rates of foreclosure, eviction, and housing stock deterioration, but no single estimate exists of the cumulative impact of these factors on Detroit residents or overall housing availability.

This brief seeks to bring together data from the 2017 Detroit Metro Area Communities Study (DMACS) to estimate the population wide experience of housing instability in Detroit prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. Data from the Detroit Blight Removal Task Force, the American Community Survey, and the Detroit’s Housing and Revitalization Department are then used to estimate the number of housing units in the city that are inhabitable, in an effort to get a more accurate picture of the city’s housing supply.

Key Findings

Prior to the economic impact of COVID-19, maintaining stable housing was already a significant challenge for many Detroit residents. In 2017, 13% of residents reported being evicted or losing their housing in the past year. That is the equivalent of roughly 88,382 Detroiters losing their home in just one year alone.

Families with children under the age of 18 faced the greatest risk of losing their housing. 16% of households with children reported being evicted in the last year — the equivalent of over 12,000 families including more than 27,000 children.

There is insufficient habitable housing to meet the needs of Detroit’s low-income residents. The City of Detroit has an estimated 24,000 fewer units of habitable housing than the city’s population. This leaves 9% of all households in Detroit with no other options than to leave the city, live in blighted housing, or doubled up with other families.




In Detroit, too many residents — particularly children — do not have a stable place to call home. This is not only an individual problem faced by residents but an issue that underpins Detroit’s potential for long-term economic growth and prosperity. Without access to stable housing, Detroit’s efforts to strengthen its current workforce and recover from job losses resulting from COVID-19 will be hampered. Research shows that loss of housing is an event that often precipitates loss of employment — a fact that is of great concern given both Detroit’s high rates of housing and employment instability. Likewise, ensuring a stable place to call home for Detroit’s children is essential to their success in school. Housing instability negatively impacts children’s educational outcomes placing them at greater risk for being chronically absent, not meeting grade level standards and dropping out of school. This type of instability is the reality for one out of every six of Detroit’s families with children. Without policy and programming changes that prioritize increasing the construction of affordable housing, improving housing quality, and keeping residents in their homes, high levels of housing instability will continue to be the norm and the long-term economic viability of the Motor City will be at risk.

Download PDF of the full policy brief