Invasive developments and environmental concerns are a daily struggle for southwest Detroiters in a section of the city known for one of the country’s most polluted ZIP codes.
District 6 residents detailed barriers to transportation and other unfavorable conditions that they said disrupt their lives during a Tuesday night town hall hosted by BridgeDetroit and Detroit is Different. And, they said they fear for those who come after them.
“Southwest Detroit is enclosed by pollution, water pollution, air pollution, truck trafficking, soils polluted,” resident and community organizer Dominique Becerra said during the meeting convened at the Detroit Hispanic Development Corporation offices on Trumbull.
The section of the city, which borders oil refineries and other heavy industry, grapples with some of the worst air pollution in the country as well as high rates of asthma, cancer and respiratory illnesses.
“If you’re looking at it from a young person’s perspective,” Becerra said, “we’re thinking about creating life and keeping that life safe. I can’t see my future generations living here healthfully and not having really scary health issues.”
Residents noted Tuesday that the ongoing $4 billion construction of the nearby Gordie Howe International Bridge, Michigan Central Station in Corktown and the Joe Louis Greenway all have affected the quality of life in the southwest.
The district covers parts of the city’s downtown and Midtown as well as the Woodbridge, Delray, Springwells and Oakwood Heights neighborhoods. It also borders Zug Island and River Rouge.
Becerra said every night for about two years she and her neighbors could hear drilling associated with the bridge project, which she said shook her house from a mile away.
Others, like Jennifer Williams, complained of aging and unstable water infrastructure. The “cranes and digging” in her neighborhood are ongoing, she said, but the problems persist.
“After they started doing this extensive digging all around there late at night, I started getting sewer backup in my house,” said Williams, a cancer survivor, who also said she lost her young grandson to gun violence.
“They’re just tearing up the world over here in Southwest and that’s why we’re dealing with the sewer smell,” Williams said.
The District 6 meeting was the latest in BridgeDetroit’s town hall series. Of the residents surveyed – 44% of about 15 attendees – cited “poor” service from DTE Energy and Detroit’s Water and Sewerage Department. About 55% said they struggle with poor internet service.
District 6 has about 104,600 residents, according to Data Driven Detroit. Of the district’s 52,100 households, 30% are owner occupied. Another 43% of homes are renter occupied and about 27% are vacant. As of 2018, about 41% of District 6 residents were living below the federal poverty line.
Karen Cardenas, a resident who works with the DHDC, said she lost power at least three times in the summer of 2021. One of those times, about a week and a half passed before it was restored.
“I live with a roommate. I don’t have children. I don’t have to support a family,” she said. “I can’t even imagine what that’s like for families in my community when they’re in situations like that.”
Many of the outages, she said, are caused by weather like strong winds and heavy rainfall and when they are frequent, they can ruin home appliances.
“Everyone on the block has to buy new appliances like refrigerators or washing machines because the power flickers on and off ten times and ruins their appliances,” she said. “For our low-income families, it’s not doable.”
A third of Tuesday’s town hall attendees said what they need most in the neighborhood is better access to public transportation.
Alexis Escoto takes the Vernor bus almost every day and said it can sometimes take “hours and hours” to arrive, often without benches to sit on.
“Not only do you have to stand in the rain and snow,” Escoto said, “but you can be out there for one hour, sometimes four hours.”
Escoto said the city’s Transit App is supposed to track arrival and departures for buses throughout the city but it is often inaccurate. When the Detroit Department of Transportation (DDOT) temporarily cut the 26 Junction and 47 Tireman routes in November 2021, Escoto said, it hurt people living in southwest Detroit who rely on those routes.
“I wish they had got more human input before doing that because a lot of people who are undocumented – or just can’t afford to buy a car – need those routes to get to work or go downtown,” Escoto said.
Mauricio Hernandez, who works in the district and formerly lived there, said he spent time as an attendance agent for the Detroit Public Schools Community District.
Some families in southwest Detroit, he said, are undocumented and were afraid to take public transportation because Immigration and Customs Enforcement could potentially detain them.
“Often they’d ask me if I knew of any resources for transportation besides DDOT, and I wouldn’t know what to say,” he said. “So it would be helpful to have some resources for transportation specifically for the needs of southwest Detroit families and students.”
District 6 Councilmember Gabriela Santiago-Romero also made an appearance Tuesday to engage with constituents. She noted that she’s working to connect more residents with opportunities and city assistance programs.
The councilwoman pointed out entities, like the city’s Workforce Development Board, created to empower residents and help connect them with job options within the city.
Angela Reyes, founder of the Detroit Hispanic Development Corporation, said she’s proud to be a part of the district, which she said is a special place, with special people.
“This community is all about diversity and the richness, including art, music, food,” Reyes said. “All of those things are part of what makes this neighborhood unique and it’s part of the legacy of southwest Detroit.”
Williams said residents in her community embrace and celebrate each other’s differences rather than letting those differences divide them.
“This area is really a melting pot where it’s not just Black, Latina, or white people,” she said. “Everyone here is proof that people can get along with each other and love each other.”
The next BridgeDetroit and Detroit is Different town hall is scheduled for Tuesday, June 28 from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. at the Birwood House at 12605 Wyoming, Detroit, MI 48238.