When I-375 was built through a thriving Black residential and business district in the early 1960s, tens of thousands of mostly Black Detroiters were displaced, almost all of whom were renters who didn’t receive any compensation.
Those details and more are laid out in a new report from the City Council’s Legislative Policy Division on the impact of the construction of I-375. Discussions have recently intensified as the state began its community engagement and planning process for the removal of I-375 in 2025. The highway will be replaced with a street-level boulevard, a $270 million project that Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg, and Mayor Mike Duggan have said will help reconnect the community. The report, issued at the request of At-Large Council Member Mary Waters, notes how many acres of Black Bottom and Paradise Valley were cleared, the number of Detroit residents affected and how many were homeowners. But the generational wealth lost by the construction of I-375 is “difficult” to quantify, it adds.
At the height of Black Bottom and Paradise Valley there were approximately 130,000 residents. Urban renewal displaced 43,000 Detroiters, 70% of whom were Black, according to the report.
“The effects of segregation, racial housing covenants and other discriminatory policies and practices denied those Blacks living in Black Bottom the right to home ownership which is a primary component in the creation of generational wealth,” the report, authored by director of the Legislative Policy Division David Whitaker, reads.
Of those displaced, 92% were renters. In a 20-block area of Black Bottom, just 36 of 2,000 homes were owner-occupied. The report also notes that I-375’s displacement of 300 Black-owned businesses also disrupted the creation of intergenerational wealth.
“It is safe to say that all those persons displaced by the condemnation and destruction of the area; renters, and business owners suffered a loss that would negatively affect their family’s ability to accumulate and transfer wealth for generations to come,” Whitaker wrote.
“It is difficult to predict what would have become of the financial legacies which could have been handed down by homeowners and black business owners of that time…We are not sure how monetary value could be associated with this tragic loss of wealth in today’s dollars,” it adds.
Others are attempting the calculations, like Black Bottom Archives, a media group for uplifting the stories of Black Detroiters.
“There’s a couple of stakeholders at this point that are trying to quantify that,” said Marcia Black, director of the archives. And, unofficially thus far, the Detroit Reparations Task Force, she said. “That’s a partnership that’s in progress,” Black said.
Calculating the wealth lost from displacement has been done in other parts of the country. An analysis was conducted on the effects of a highway constructed through a Black neighborhood in the Rondo neighborhood of St. Paul. It found that an additional $270 million of intergenerational wealth would have existed if those Black residents hadn’t been displaced. The analysis did not account for the wealth lost from the Black businesses that were also displaced there. The analysis was conducted by comparing housing values before the houses were destroyed to what neighborhood homes in St. Paul are now worth more broadly.
Black said she’s skeptical of some of the Legislative Policy Division’s analysis and whether all possible data sources were used.
The report was developed using research from Wayne State University and the University of Michigan, materials from the Detroit Historical Society and Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) as well as news reporting and op-eds from the Detroit Free Press. It also relies on a Detroit Future City report released in August, called “A Call for Reparative Investment in Black Bottom Paradise Valley.”
“There’s definitely way more records than what we’re working with right now,” Black said.
The LPD report also references BridgeDetroit’s May 2022 story on the approximately 31 acres of land valued at $50 million that will open up when the freeway is removed.
The conversation to determine who gets the land is ongoing and being led by MDOT, which owns the highway, and will subsequently own the land that opens up.
Mayor Mike Duggan has said that Black businesses should benefit from the “enormous development opportunities” the project will bring.
In early August, MDOT held an open house at Eastern Market to share updates on the planning process, and plans to host more public engagement opportunities.
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