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MEET THE MAYOR: Detroit’s Renaissance recreates historic racial divides

Detroit is emerging as predominant place of sporting events, nightlife and commerce. But the result of Detroit’s growth has made life a lot harder for many groups native to the city.

Gentrification, or the displacement of lower income residents and businesses for more affluent or wealthy residents, often means white people are taking over the living and working spaces of black people.

A sit-down with Mayor Mike Duggan on Dec. 9 revealed the complexity of managing a city on the rise and decline.

In the 50’s, vast amounts of white citizens and families sought suburban comforts and moved out of the city, a move known as the White Flight. The exodus was muddled in racist housing policy and lending practices, lasting racial tensions, and ideas an “American dream.”

Business Insider reports: “Detroit went from a thriving hub of industry with a population of 1.8 million in 1950 to a city of roughly 680,000 in 2014…the city's population has gone from nearly 84% white to a little less than 13% white.”

With the population loss went jobs.

“Between 1947 and 1963, Detroit lost 140,000 manufacturing jobs,” said historian Thomas Sugrue in an 2013 AP article.

It is odd, however, that as residents and opportunity return to Detroit, the groups previously barred from leaving the city are left out of the new developments.

With business opportunities popping up throughout the city, people are now making their ways back into Detroit, buying up living spaces and businesses once owned or rented by blacks.

But Mayor Duggan finds that opportunity is growing for all, mentioning that he had been to 3 openings of African-American-owned businesses in the last week.

He believes the city is basically doing what it can to solve the housing and opportunity gaps.

“We have probably got 40 or 50 houses that are occupied today that were vacant … for 50 straight years, people were moving out. My goal is to reverse the decline ... one vacant house at a time," Duggan said. 

The selling of vacant houses is a good thing for Detroit. It generates tax revenue, makes neighborhoods safer and beautifies neighborhoods. Whether selling vacant homes necessarily helps the black population stay in Detroit is another question.

Duggan never indicated explicitly who is buying the vacant homes, nor that many of the “vacant” homes auctioned off are still occupied (by long-term owners who couldn't afford to pay taxes, who must watch their homes foreclosed and sold off to somebody else).

Loveland Technologies maps foreclosed properties in Detroit; it estimates that half of the properties facing foreclosure are occupied (about 100,000 Detroiters).

These are thousands of people who, over the years, have put time, effort and resources into the aesthetics of their homes, just to witness their homes be auctioned off to outsiders. The same things are happening with businesses as well.

“All I want to do is make more opportunities … people will then have choices,” said Duggan.

The mayor worked to recruit people in job training programs at different hospitals and DTE Energy Company. He claims the city could use at least 1,000 plumbers, electricians, and carpenters each, and that these jobs tend to pay around $60,000-$80,000 per year.

He has designed a program called “Detroit at Work,” which will provide a variety of training for such opportunities in Detroit.

Another program Duggan has worked on is known as the Ceasefire program, through which gang members at risk of being killed are brought to a church, and made aware of their risks. The program then helps these at-risk individuals enroll directly in job training programs. After the start of the Ceasefire program, shootings dropped 30%-40%.

Crime rates are still high, but they have dropped significantly. EMS and police are showing up in half the time they used to on average, because of hiring in these departments.

It is exciting that housing and job opportunities are on the rise in a city that is becoming safer and more diverse.

So far, Duggan seems to be doing a wonderful job getting people into the jobs they need. Whether he is actually doing all he can to promote minority advancement in the process is still debatable.


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