Detroiters in District 2 believe in their neighborhoods and want to see them succeed, but many who attended BridgeDetroit’s Tuesday town hall said residents are being held back by subpar services, overtaxation and a lack of healthy food options.
BridgeDetroit and Detroit is Different convened the second in a series of eight community meetings aimed at engaging residents on issues touching their lives and gathering data to inform reporting decisions.
The outdoor event at the Detroit is Different incubator space in the Hope Village neighborhood facilitated a wide-ranging discussion with more than two dozen neighbors about housing, economic development, education, policing and safety, quality of city services and connections with public officials.
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“I like this neighborhood because of my neighbors. If you need help, they help you out,” said Raymond Cole, a 21-year-old homeowner in Hope Village. “We might not necessarily rely too much on the mayor or the city, but we can rely on each other.”
Cole purchased his first home on Pasadena Street at the age of 18 through a Detroit Land Bank Authority auction. Fixing up the home has been an involved process, he said, with a long list of roof and window repairs, water damage and structural problems. Cole said having access to home repair grants or reduced loan requirements would be a great help, but he’s more focused on saving the money for repairs himself.
“I always heard people in my neighborhood talk about owning your own property, and that’s what you have to do as a man,” Cole said. “If that’s what it takes, I’m going to do that. Everybody has to have their own place to go. I just want to hold my own.”
The median household income is $33,576, according to Data Driven Detroit, and 68% of the district earns less than $50,000 per year. For comparison, the average household income in Michigan is $54,938. Three in 10 residents in the district live below the poverty line.
The district spans east from Southfield Road to John R. Eight Mile Road serves as the district’s northern border, while southern borders include West Davison, West McNichols, Fenkell and Lyndon. More than 20 neighborhoods and 37 census tracts are contained within District 2.
The city received $827 million in federal COVID relief aid, which was divided into specific spending categories by Mayor Mike Duggan and the City Council last year following a series of community meetings. About $400 million dollars went toward the city’s COVID-induced budget shortfall and an additional $426 million dollars has been planned for community projects.
The city used $30 million in federal funds for “Renew Detroit,” a senior roof repair fund aimed at replacing 1,000 roofs. Detroiters at the Tuesday town hall questioned why a larger sum of $95 million dollars is being used for blight remediation and demolition of housing stock, voicing concerns about a perceived imbalance in helping residents repair their houses.
“What I’m really feeling is that a lot of this money is not going to benefit Detroiters, it’s going to benefit Detroit, whatever that concept is,” said Greg Frazier. “It’s not going to benefit us.”
Frazier also objected to characterizing repaying homeowners who were collectively overtaxed by $600 million as a reparations initiative. Frazier argued that the overtaxation, caused by the Detroit property assessor’s office falling to accurately reflect declining property valuations in the years following the Great Recession, was a wrongful seizure of money from residents.
Duggan’s administration in 2014 began reducing residential assessments. Detroit also completed a state-ordered citywide reappraisal of all residential properties in 2017, but thousands of Detroiters still faced foreclosure over back taxes.
“That money should be returned to us, that is not reparations,” he said.
As of April 30, 2% of the city’s federal relief funds had been spent, with 10% set aside for contracts but not yet paid out. Funding must be allocated by the end of 2024 and spent by the end of 2026.
An estimated 43% of housing units in District 2 are owner-occupied, according to Data Driven Detroit, while 33% of units are renter-occupied and 25% are vacant. The data shows 55% of Black residents in the district own a home and 73% of white residents there own a home.
Detroit’s homeownership rate is significantly lower than the rest of the state, despite low property values in the city. A newly released study by New York-based Stout Risus Ross found declining homeownership rates among Black Detroiters across 2000 to 2016, dropping from 51% to 40%. Black Detroiters on average have homes that are worth $46,000 less than the value of a white-owned home.
Many homes in the city are falling into disrepair. A 2021 report from the University of Michigan found that 37,600 homes – or about 13% 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. Most available housing (77%) was built before 1960.
Public safety is another top priority for residents in the northwest side. Sherri Smith noted her next-door neighbor does not feel safe in the home she owns and is looking to move. Smith also said illegal dumping has plagued the neighborhood with nonfunctioning vehicles and other eyesores.
Cole recounted how he was mugged while waiting for the bus outside the Catholic Church of St. Moses the Black on Oakman, feeling kicks to his stomach as a statue of St. Mary looked down on him.
“It was like the light hit me and I finally felt my power, you can’t take anything material from me,” Cole said. “Right after that, I got my property. Whatever they had to gain, I guess they got what they wanted, but I got so much more. You can’t be afraid. We see what’s on the news, we know what happens around here. At the same time, we can’t be scared.”
Detroit remains one of the most violent big cities in America, according to federal crime statistics, though homicides and nonfatal shootings in Detroit saw a decrease in 2021 of 4% and 9% compared to the previous year.
A majority of Tuesday’s attendees said safety and failing public schools are top reasons why people leave Detroit.
“I just firmly believe that you cannot talk about good communities without good schools,” said Arlyssa Heard, a community organizer and Hope Village resident. “Case in point: Parents will drop everything they have and take their family up to different neighborhoods if there was a great school system that they felt works. If we want families to come into this neighborhood, and to be here for a while, I think schools are at the heart of that.”
Ronald Cole, father of Raymond Cole, said he lays some of the blame on parents for not being more involved in their child’s education. However, he argued schools are failing the city’s kids.
Detroit Public Schools Community District, which has an annual budget of over $776 million, graduated 65% of its students in four years. State standardized testing data found only 11th grade High School students in Detroit lag far behind the state averages in proficiency for science and social studies competency.
The elder Cole said teachers, firefighters, police and city staff should be required to live within the city limits. Michigan law prohibits the city of Detroit from requiring certain public employees to reside in the city. The prospect of a change has been raised by leaders in Detroit for years. It would require the state Legislature to take action.
Access to healthy food is a major concern for residents who said they lack affordable grocery options. When the pandemic hit Detroit, fresh food and vegetables became scarce. Residents said there needs to be more support for local growers to build community agriculture projects, home gardens and food co-ops.
Residents also raised the issue of reliable internet, water and electric services in the neighborhood.
Miguel Mims, who’s lived in Hope Village since 1978, said parts of the neighborhood have a major problem with basement flooding and clogged storm drains. Mims owns several rental properties and said he has faced frustrations, waiting up to eight weeks for Detroit’s Water and Sewer Department to clean out overflowed catch basins. In one instance, the culprit was found to be a bowling ball, he said.
DWSD expanded its basement backup protection program to 11 flood-prone neighborhoods this year. The program is funded through federal COVID relief aid. However, none of the eligible neighborhoods are located in District 2.
Homeowners who apply are responsible for a 10% deposit of the total cost to DWSD before the work begins. For rental properties, landlords are responsible for 20% of the total cost. Applicants must sign a legal waiver and allow BSEED to perform an inspection inside and outside the home. After an inspection, a licensed plumber will share the estimated cost with the homeowner and then send it to DWSD for approval.
DWSD will pay plumbers directly for the cost of the approved flood mitigation measures, up to $6,000. This includes connecting downspouts and installing extensions, backwater valves and sump pumps.
“Every time it rains, my basement floods,” Mims said. “I’m going to have to put my tenants out. I can’t keep going over there and pumping water out of every day. The service in Detroit is super duper poor.”
Ultimately, residents said they’re committed to building up the community and carrying on the legacy of beloved figures who came before there.
“For me, the things that add value to the community richness here are definitely the residents who are reinventing things in this neighborhood,” Smith said. “They’ve been here, they’ve seen some discouragement, they’ve seen a lot of the disinvestment, they’ve seen a lot of the blight, but they turned that into purchasing vacant lots and putting a community garden or starting a community group on their block to improve things.”
Orlando Bailey, BridgeDetroit’s Engagement Director, moderated the discussion along with Khary Frazier with Detroit is Different.
The next town hall is for District 3 residents and is scheduled to start at 6 p.m. May 26 at The Shed at Martz Park, 11530 Flanders St. If the event is canceled for rain, it will be rescheduled in July.
See the full schedule of town halls here.