The Detroit News recently released a special report that implicates Dan Gilbert’s company, Quicken Loans, in Detroit’s struggles with blight. Gilbert is seen by many as one of Detroit’s “saviors.” He is sometimes credited with single-handedly reviving downtown. Though he has not been without controversy, he is still regarded as much more of a blessing than a curse – sort of benevolent developer.
Dan Gilbert does not appear to have a very long attention span, but that fleeting interest almost always produces results. From manufacturing football helmets to financing (and naming) the M-1 Rail, and from launching high-speed internet to redeveloping vast swaths of land at once, Gilbert has his hand in just about any news about Detroit developments. You almost get the impression that every day he buys, saves, or unveils a new building.
Gilbert has even been heavily involved in tearing down buildings. He co-chaired a task force with the Obama administration that found about 40,000 structures needed demolition. That work greatly assisted the City in forming a strategy to fight blight across the city.
However, this revelation about Quicken Loans’ contribution to that same blight has put a serious dent in the armor of the shining knight that is Dan Gilbert. According to the special report, Quicken Loans “had the fifth-highest number of mortgages that ended in foreclosure in Detroit over the last decade.” Of those that ended in foreclosure, 52 percent are now blighted.
Still, Gilbert and Quicken Loans have contested their involvement in Detroit’s blight. Quicken’s percentage of “subprime” loans from 2004-2006 was much lower than those of the top four mortgage lenders during the same time. That provides little actual defense, though. With the four companies with a bigger hand in Detroit’s mortgage lending folding during the economic collapse, the bar was never set particularly high.
Whether their involvement was explicit through predatory loans or simply an unintended consequence, Quicken Loans bears some responsibility for Detroit’s blight. So far, Gilbert has taken an active role in downtown’s revitalization and the demolition of blighted buildings. The good seems to be outweighing the bad.
Even so, this discovery, combined with previous issues with privacy near Gilbert’s buildings and a federal lawsuit against Quicken Loans, shows that Dan Gilbert may not be as benevolent as previously thought. He might not be an angel – he’s a human and, more importantly, a businessman first. But he still might be Detroit’s superhero, with the best interest of all Detroiters in mind. At this point, what alternatives do we really have?