Yolanda Hill-Ashford
Yolanda Hill-Ashford is the director of public health programs for the Detroit Health Department. Hill-Ashford said during the COVID-19 pandemic some Detroiters weren’t able to get tested or treated for the virus because they didn’t have a photo ID. She said this is among the reasons the program is restarting. (Bryce Huffman/BridgeDetroit)

Detroit is relaunching its municipal ID program following a two-year COVID-19 hiatus to ensure every resident has “equitable access” to services.

Yolanda Hill-Ashford, director of public health programs for the Detroit Health Department, said Monday that the city ID program seeks to provide equitable access to the basic city services that “we take for granted every day.”

“Whether it’s getting a library card, going for a medical exam, enrolling your kids into school, starting a bank account, those are things you need an ID for,” Hill-Ashford said.

The ID cards also work to sign up for utility accounts with entities including DTE Energy and Detroit Water and Sewerage. 

Hill-Ashford said before the program began in 2016 Detroit’s immigrants, returning citizens and homeless population were prevented from fully engaging in the city if they didn’t have a state-issued ID. 

Juan Alfaro, adult services director for the Detroit Hispanic Development Corporation, said many immigrants he works with don’t have a state-issued ID and have a hard time accessing city services. 

“They might have a Mexican ID when they come here, but if they want to go to a local clinic or a local hospital they don’t have the right type of ID to get helped,” Alfaro said. 

Alfaro said DHDC is encouraging everyone in the immigrant community to get a city ID as soon as they can. 

“We want everyone to get a city ID card because it can help them get access to (Detroit) land bank houses and even help them get COVID tests and vaccines,” he said. 

Demetrius Knuckles, an organizer with Michigan Liberation and the Michigan Democratic Party, said not having an ID can be an even bigger problem for people returning home from prison. 

“Having an ID is the key to a lot of doors,” Knuckles said. “Some doors are for jobs because you can’t even fill out some job applications without ID. Other doors are for housing after you get home. So it’s so many hurdles if you don’t have an ID, especially for minorities.”

During the pandemic, Hill-Ashford and others realized the program needed to come back as soon as possible.

“There were a number of individuals who couldn’t get (COVID-19) testing because having an ID was a requirement, so we were working diligently from that point on to get the program restarted,” she said. 

Detroit ID cards are free for the first 5,000 who apply. For adults between ages 18 and 61, cards cost $25. For minors and seniors 62 years and up, cards are $10. 

Detroit City Council approved the Municipal ID program in May 2016. Since then, the city has issued over 8,500 ID cards to Detroiters. Hill-Ashford said demand for the city ID cards remains high.

“We have been contacted by over 2,000 people needing their ID to be renewed, and we’ve been contacted by at least 1,500 additional people just seeking to see if they can get an ID,” she said. 

The cards don’t provide benefits over a state ID, but the requirements tied to obtaining one are easier for some individuals. A municipal ID does not replace a driver’s license or state ID card.

The cards display each cardholder’s name, photograph, address, date of birth, signature, identification card number and an expiration date.

“We are trying to build a city where every person is valued and can access important basic services and opportunities to lead healthy, productive lives,” Mayor Mike Duggan added in a statement. “Many people may lack other forms of identification they need to access these opportunities, so we are pleased to offer this important tool once again.”

To sign up or view required documents, go to the city’s ID program website. Applicants also must provide proof of residency. 

Detroit ID card applications are processed by appointment at the Detroit Health Department, 100 Mack Avenue.

To schedule an appointment by phone, call (313) 774-5388. 

Correction: This story has been updated to reflect clarification from the city on where and how residents can obtain a Detroit ID.

Bryce Huffman is a reporter for BridgeDetroit. He was formerly a reporter for Michigan Radio, and host of the podcast, Same Same Different.

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