Detroiters in District 1 are struggling with rising housing costs, unreliable public transportation and a disconnection from city government, they said Tuesday night at BridgeDetroit’s town hall at the Norwest Gallery on Grand River.
BridgeDetroit and Detroit is Different hosted the first of eight town halls at Norwest Gallery to gather community input about issues like housing, economic development, education, public safety, and perceptions about access and opportunity, facing residents. This was the first in-person event BridgeDetroit has hosted since the nonprofit news outlet launched in May 2020. The information and data gathered at the events will be used by reporters and editors to help inform coverage.
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“I feel like everyone should leave Detroit and travel to other cities to see how things work,” said Detroiter Alpha Mallory, who believes the city deserves a stronger public transit system. “When I’m in Chicago I can go from Navy Pier to downtown and to Hyde Park, but in Detroit if I land at the airport, I’m stuck there until a family member can get me or I rent a car.”
Detroit is widely considered the largest big city without comprehensive mass transit, and Mallory’s point launched a lengthy discussion about other economic barriers in District 1. Among them: The high costs of utilities, taxes, auto insurance and housing.
District 1, which is majority Black, has nearly 104,000 residents as of 2018 and the median household income is $33,974, according to Data Driven Detroit. The district, which is represented by City Councilmember James Tate, runs from 8 Mile and the Southfield Freeway to Telegraph and I-96. The area includes the Schoolcraft Southfield Neighborhood, Rosedale Park, Brightmoor, and the 7 Mile Rouge Neighborhood, among others.
In January, Mayor Mike Duggan said home values in the city increased by an average of 31 percent since 2021, and District 1 residents said they are feeling the pinch of the cost increase and fear displacement.
Evan Daugherty, a lifelong District 1 resident, whose grandmother owned property in the area, said he has deep roots in the community but wonders if he can afford to follow her lead.
“The way the market is now, I can’t afford to even buy a house in the neighborhood I grew up in.” Daugherty said.
Daugherty expressed a willingness to invest in a distressed property that he could call home but said the financial tools necessary to revitalize the area’s housing stock don’t exist.
A 2021 report from the University of Michigan revealed that 37,600 homes – or about 13 percent of Detroit households – live with hazards such as exposed wires or electrical problems, broken furnaces or heating problems, or a lack of hot or running water.
Also, homes in District 1 are about 42 percent owner occupied. Nearly a third of the district’s residents are living below the federal poverty line.
Contractor, real estate agent and resident Rachel Saltmarshall said she is saddened by how little funding from federal COVID relief funds went to home repair. Last fall, the city created a $30 million dollar roof repair fund for seniors with American Rescue Plan Act dollars. By the end of the first week, nearly 5000 residents applied to the program which will serve 1000 homes.
Detroit will receive $826 million dollars in federal COVID relief which was allocated by the Mayor and City Council in 2021. Some $400 million dollars went to the city’s budget shortfall and an additional $426 million dollars has been planned for community projects, yet residents and Detroit City Council have continued to request funding for home repair.
The city has some programs to help residents, but Saltmarshall said many residents have a hard time accessing them and they aren’t promoted well.
“The Detroit home loan, that’s something that can happen, and then it’s like been swept under the rug,” Saltmarshall said. “We never knew how many Detroiters actually benefited, we never knew necessarily how many homes were being rehabbed through the Detroit Home Loan.”
Residents also expressed concern about feeling disconnected
Mallory believes many of the properties and development projects in the city are designed “for people who aren’t legacy Detroiters.”
Orlando Bailey, BridgeDetroit’s Engagement Director, moderated the discussion along with Khary Frazier with Detroit is Different. The next town hall meeting is for District 2 residents and is scheduled for May 24, 6 p.m. at the Detroit is Different Incubator Space at 1652 Clements, Detroit, MI 48238.
The full schedule of town halls is here.