Cars cost more than homes in Detroit…?

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A friend of mine passed along a Reuters news story that seems to be getting quite a bit of attention for the moment, and no doubt the title of the article has a lot to do with it. The article screams “Houses cheaper than cars in Detroit”.

Well damn. I gotta read the piece now. I mean, seeing as how I live here and everything I figure this is something I need to know about. But just before I get into this thing, and if you’re someone who’s reading this and isn’t from Detroit, I want you to ask yourself a quick question: Given what you know about Detroit, is this really so hard for you to believe?

Chances are, if you’re being honest with yourself, the answer is no, it’s not hard to believe at all. You’ve heard about how much we enjoy killing and robbing each other, you’ve heard about what’s not going on with our schools, you’re probably still getting a good laugh out of the party-man stories you read about our Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick during his first term in office. You’ve heard all these things because, well, let’s admit it, they make for good stories. And what makes these kinds of stories an even better read is that you don’t even live here so you can enjoy all the shenanigans from a distance and then just thank God every day that you live somewhere safe.

Stop. Bet you thought I was gonna deny that things are bad in Detroit, didn’t you? Thought I’d cry about why doesn’t anybody trumpet the good stories? No. I’m way beyond that. As someone who has spent nearly half of his adult life as a professional journalist, I don’t expect the good news. But what I would like to see is some context, although I realize even that is too much to expect these days. Takes up too much space on the page.

So are there homes in Detroit that you can buy for cheaper than the cost of  a new car’s “average” price of $29,000 (according to the article)? Sure there are. And it’s true that there aren’t many cities in the nation, especially not major cities, where homes can actually be bought for four-digit figures. I admit it. Is this a reflection on the fact that Michigan is currently suffering from the worst economy in the nation? Hell yes. Isn’t that obvious?

But here’s the other thing; anyone reading this piece would think that these dirt cheap cribs are whjat define the city, and that Detroit is just one big Deadwood with tumbleweeds blowing through without hitting a thing. But I can honestly say I live in a west side neighborhood which is a decent neighborhood to be sure, but it’s hardly ritzy Palmer Woods. And where I live, believe me, there are no homes that would sell for anywhere near as low as $29,000. Now to be upfront and honest? I can’t say with certainty that’s the case for the neighborhood about ten minutes away from me near I-75 where entire blocks are covered with weeds. But that neighborhood – and all the others like it – do not represent the  entire city.

And even  if $29,000 is truly the cost of an “average” new car, how many folks can afford new cars these days? I’m just saying, you know, to put things into perspective.  Look, I’ve been all through a lot of these neighborhoods, and there’s always the blown out shells and then there’s always the shining home on a hill where some little old lady refuses to let her pride be shut down in the face of the oncoming storm. So maybe property values have dropped the value of her home down  to a fraction of what it’s truly worth – especially to her – but it’s also the spirit of people like this that will anchor these neighborhoods.

I guess I’m saying that yes, it’s true; there are homes in Detroit that cost less than shiny new cars. Fine. Good expose. So where’s that leave us? Well, we also have a beating heart in Detroit, and anyone who knows Detroit and Detroiters knows that it takes more than a few bullets to silence the heart of this city. Survival is what we specialize in here. If survival were a growth industry, Detroit would be making enough money to pay off the national debt. And yes we have hundreds of people who are leaving this city, and yes we are half the size we were decades ago. But decades later, those of us who are still here refuse to believe that because we don’t look anything like the old Detroit that we must somehow be ready for the grave. I don’t look much like I did when I was a child either, but I’m not making a place at the table for the Grim Reaper, you know? And like Detroit, I have seen my fair share – maybe even more than my fair share – of up and down.

But I’d like to think that what I look like today is ready and waiting for the next chapter in my life, because I’m not just hoping it will be better; I’m going to make damned sure it’s better.

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~ by Keith A. Owens on March 21, 2007.

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