| Follow Us:



Detroit Land Bank Authority

65 Cadillac Square
Suite 3200
Detroit, Michigan 48216

Greg Holman

By Danny Fenster
August 15, 2014

When Greg Holman couldn’t decide between pursuing his masters in urban planning or public policy, he applied to both. Faced with the enviable dilemma of being accepted into both, he doubled down, earning a double master's from University of Michigan in 2011.
That sort of willingness to face down big challenges serves Holman well in his new role at the Detroit Land Bank Authority. With crabgrass and the construction season in full bloom, the Land Bank has to spend $52 million in funding from the federal government’s Hardest Hit Fund on ridding Detroit of thousands of blighted residential structures by April 2015. As Data and Assets Manager, Holman sits at the center of that project, analyzing available data, allocating resources and orchestrating the massive undertaking.
“We can’t demolish something we don’t own,” Holman explains, “so a lot of the work is tracking down ownership, getting the deeds and getting (abandoned homes) under our ownership, figuring out what needs to be demolished and what can be rehabbed.” 
That work couldn’t be done without the efforts from third party groups in Detroit, efforts like the Motor City Mapping survey—a massive joint effort from groups like Data Driven Detroit, Loveland Technologies, corporate partners like Dan Gilbert and community advocates like Linda Smith, Executive Director of U-SNAP-BAC. The project sent volunteers all over the city this winter to survey properties, compiling photographs and other data to create a map of blight.
“I’ve seen other (non-governmental) groups, in New York, say, that do similar type of work,” Holman says, “but I haven’t seen the level of collaboration with the city that I have in Detroit. “
There probably isn’t the same level of need from outside help in other cities either, he says. Holman started in Detroit at the city’s Planning & Development Department, working on a series of projects under Rob Anderson and the Dave Bing administration.
He worked with the real estate department in a program to sell and help beautify vacant side lots to the owners of adjacent homes, much of which was “helping them to understand what they even owned, because they owned so much in the city and at the time only had two GIS (geographical information systems) people, who were busy doing other things.”
That project got Holman interested in the process of property sales, which added to a list of interests and experiences he began accruing even before the double masters—a list that seems surprisingly well-tailored to the current Land Bank project.
After his bachelors—political science at Michigan State University’s James Madison College—Holman stayed in Lansing to work with AmeriCorps, repurposing old highways as part of a “road diet” policy. “I had always been interested in policy,” he says, but “that got me interested in the whole idea of the built environment, and how it affects a community positively or negatively.”
His 2011 urban planning thesis—a collaborative work that won him a national award from the American Planning Association in applied research—looked at Detroit’s tax foreclosure auction process for the Wayne County treasurer. Analyzing data and evaluating outcomes of then-current processes, the paper suggested a series of recommendations for increasing the value and reuse potential of tax-foreclosed properties in the city, many of which he is implementing for the Land Bank now.
That got him interested in vacant properties, he says, “learning about reuse, knowing the relevant background and laws and that sort of stuff.” It also got him interested in data work and GIS mapping, all of which he would put to use working on the controversial Hantz Farm deal—scorned as a land grab by some and praised as a progressive green development by others.
When John Hantz wanted to buy land on Detroit’s lower east to create the country’s largest urban tree farm, Holman had to track down owners of adjacent properties first. “In the Hantz agreement, if you were adjacent to the property then you got the first option to buy,” he says.
“I did a lot of the data work behind that—identifying what was city-owned, sending out letters and notifying neighbors, meeting with community groups to get input.” Holman estimates they sold about 90 lots to individuals in the neighborhood, but that more than half of the eligible homes were vacant and couldn’t be reached.
Notices are posted all over the city now for the neighbors of the vacant houses the Land Bank plans to demolish. It is the largest undertaking Holman had worked on. “Every single house has to have an environmental report, a letter from the building inspector saying it’s blighted; after demo we have to have an open hole inspection; after the foundation is cleared and refilled there’s another inspection…” he trails off. “There are about 20 or 30 steps,” he says, “and a lot of paperwork.”
And likely more than 4,000 vacant homes.
When it is all said, it will be a nice addition to Holman’s growing list of accomplishments. 

All photos by Doug Coombe. 

Share this page
Signup for Email Alerts

Twitter Feed

Related People

Related Projects

Related Resources

  • Data Driven Detroit
    The mission of Data Driven Detroit is to use advanced information technology to gather and analyze relevant data for those organizations and citizens of the greater Detroit metropolitan area who are dedicated to transforming information into action.