Poll: Detroiters want reparations for past housing discrimination

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The majority of Detroit voters said compensation should address discriminatory housing policies and practices. (Shutterstock photo)

A majority of Detroit voters support a reparations program to compensate Black people over past discriminatory housing policies and practices by the City, according to a poll commissioned by the Michigan Democratic Party’s Black Caucus.

The poll, conducted last week, is intended to help fuel “the political conversation” of establishing a fund in Detroit during this local election year, when the mayor and City Council seats are on the ballot, said Ed Sarpolus, a political pollster and executive director of Target Insyght, a Lansing consulting firm.

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Among the results:

  • 51 percent said they support reparations for the discrimination, when asked about the idea directly.  Another 16 percent lean toward supporting the idea, based on responses about specific policies. 
  • 22 percent did not support reparations for the discrimination. 
  •   11 percent were undecided.

The survey is based on 400 Detroit voters who responded to a telephone survey April 13-15. The poll was sponsored by Target Insyght and the state Democratic Black Caucus, which has 28 state legislators among its members. Sixty percent of the respondents were Black and  20% were white, pollster Sarpolus said. The rest identified as Latino, Asian or some other racial/ethnic group; Sarpolus did not provide a breakdown. The sample study has a margin of error of plus or minus 5 percent.

“It was very encouraging that the Black community was not alone in the understanding of the wrongdoing and harm done by the City,” Keith Williams, chairman of the Democratic Black Caucus said in a press release Tuesday issued about the survey. “We will look forward to working with all colors of people, races and ethnic background to heal past wounds.”

Pay back over-taxed Detroit homeowners during Great Recession 

The idea that had the most support was finding a way to compensate more than 63,000 homeowners who overpaid property taxes between 2010 and 2016. The poll found 75 percent believe “extreme/definite” harm was brought upon the Black community as a result of being overtaxed for their properties.  

As home values nosedived due to the subprime mortgage crisis and Great Recession, the City failed to accurately lower property values for years. A Detroit News investigation found that more than 92% of 173,000 homes reviewed by the newspaper were found to be overtaxed by an average of $3,800. Thousands ended up losing their homes in tax foreclosure. Homeowners overpaid a total of at least $600 million in property taxes.

The City hasn’t found a way to make amends to the homeowners who were overtaxed. Detroit completed a state-ordered reappraisal of all residential property in 2017 to correct its over-assessment problem. City Council recently rejected a resolution supported by Mayor Mike Duggan to give overtaxed residents priority in affordable housing, home-buying discounts and job opportunities. Duggan has said the City can’t afford to repay the overtaxed homeowners. He also has argued a massive repayment wouldn’t be allowed under State law.

Other poll results:

  • 71 percent said the 1967 Uprising had an “extreme/definite” harm to the Black community.
  • 62 percent said policing and the criminal justice system has been at times “unfair/harsh.”

The study was prompted by the nation’s first Black reparations fund that was approved by the City of  Evanston, Ill. In 2019, the suburban Chicago city approved a $10 million fund meant to address past racial discriminatory housing policies and practices to the Black community. Critics say Evanston’s remedy is a housing program not a plan for reparations and the effort could harm a movement to compensate the descendants of enslaved people. Last month, the City approved the fund’s first allocation and will pay eligible participants up to $25,000 for mortgage assistance, down-payment assistance, paying off overdue property taxes, and home repair. The program is funded mainly from the city’s marijuana sales tax.

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