The death of Detroit; this time could be for real


Considering the shape we’re in, this seems like the perfect time for denial. Because to stare full-on into the headlights of the train that’s heading down the tracks toward Detroit is to invite blindness.

Then again, maybe being blind in  Detroit wouldn’t be such a bad thing right about now.  Some things you just don’t want to have to watch.

There have been any number of stories in recent years in the local media about just how bad things were getting, but being a Detroiter you get used to End of Days scenarios. Someone somewhere is always heralding the arrival of the Late Great Detroit. We’re so accustomed to being referred to in the past tense (used to be Motown, used to be Auto town, used to have this, used to have that…) that we sometimes have a hard time looking forward. If the past isn’t about to bite us in the ass, then somebody’s probably about to knock us over the head, so best to keep a lookout in that rear view mirror.

But no matter how bad the stories got, Detroit was always there the next day when we woke up.  And we always knew it would be there the day after that. A few scars, a few bruises, maybe bleeding a little, but still tough as nails and fulla attitude. We were America’s pitbull. No matter how many blows we took we were still tough enough to fuck you up if you made the mistake of thinking we were down for the count.

I’m thinking those days are just about over, which is why I say that if you’re into denial then now might be the perfect time to pull that suit out of the closet and put it on. Wear it wherever you go and do not take it off. Because staunch denial, refusal to believe what’s right there in front of us, may be the only way we manage to push our way past all this.

As it stands? The city could be out of money by October. December at the latest. We can’t borrow a skinny dime. The city is facing the choice of at least 1,000 or more layoffs or municipal bankruptcy. The unions are up in arms because they figure they’ve sucked up about as many cutbacks as they can take. Of course, if the city goes into bankruptcy then the unions are damned near irrelevant because their contracts become toilet paper overnight. And if they think the possibility of bankruptcy is a bluff…?

Meanwhile, the Detroit Public Schools is hanging onto the edge of the cliff by one worn-out toenail. More schools are on the chopping block, more layoffs are looming, and even with all that there doesn’t seem to be any visible way of stopping the bleeding and putting the budget back on track. The school system has lost thousands of students over the last several years, and those who are left aren’t getting shit for an education unless they are the fortunate few at the handful of performing schools in the city.

The police? We don’t have nearly enough, and the crime rate shows it. The morale is, well…what morale?  Having been at the top of the list of cities with the most foreclosures ever since the foreclosure crisis caught fire over a year ago, Detroit’s property tax collections are now dropping like a rock because, quite obviously, foreclosed properties don’t just drop the value of the properties themselves but of the entire surrounding neighborhoods. A house down the street from us sold recently for $60,000. THe woman who lost the house not quite a year earlier had bought it for $200,000. I think the house across the street went for around $30,000. We’ve got two group homes in the neighborhood, one of them fine, the other occupied by BeBe’s kids.

This isn’t the storm on the horizon anymore. This is the threat that’s come home to roost.

SHAMELESS PLUG: Read my wife’s blog @ The ‘D’ Spot Redeux


~ by Keith A. Owens on August 31, 2009.

3 Responses to “The death of Detroit; this time could be for real”

  1. Your blog puts a lot in perspective but does not really go far enough.

    I love the City and I was born there but I now live in the suburbs because the Detroit is on its way down. It has been spiraling down for decades as it lost its most educated population, hiked its property taxes to raise more revinue which stagnated or drove down property values further.

    The underlying problem is that the City, and the Detroit School System is that it has the infrastructure, facilities, area (land) and mentality of a City with a population of 2 million but it has a population of substantially less than 1 million. Further the unemployment rate in the city is substant

    It simply cannot afford to maintain the same levels of service it envisions its need, or that the City’s population wants.

    As for the woman who purchased the house for $200K and then it went into foreclosure the next year and sold for $60K… I wonder if the problem was property taxes. When the property tax rate was uncapped at the transfer of ownership I’ll bet the property taxes went from $2-3 thousand per year to substantially over $10 thousand per year. There is no way that anyone with a typical income can afford that hike in property taxes — nor should they be required to. (I know this because a friend had a house that he tried to sell in Detroit for $300K .. but the buyer backed out when it was determined that the taxes would go from $3K per year to over $25K when the property taxes were uncapped).

    As I said, I love the City but I am afraid that substantial change is on the way… hopefully it will be for the good.

    • Atty. in Oakland,

      Thank you very much for your thoughtful comments, and for stopping by.
      I agree wholeheartedly with your assessment of the situation. Sometimes I write pretty fast since this is a blog and don’t always take the time to really ‘dig in’. Your comments make the conversation more complete.

      As for the woman who lost the $200,000 home, that may well have been the case. I’ve seen that happen to quite a few folks, and it can be a killer. It’s almost like being sucker-punched; it’s the hit the home buyer in Detroit never sees coming.

      Hope to see you back again.

  2. Nonetheless, teamowens313, I think your post is thoughtful and insightful. Detroit’s revenue woes are a combination of property and income taxes, which nowadays seem to penalize those trying to make a go of it, and gross mismanagement in the city’s elected officials. There’s enough blame for previous mayoral administrations and the dysfunctional city council persons to last a couple lifetimes on this one.

    Your key point, however, is there’s no looking the other way this time. There are no reserves left. Detroiters, and their elected officials, need to make the hard choices for the city to survive in the short term. Ideas like shrinking the physical size of Detroit are long-term solutions that require strategic planning, something few politicians have a clue about.

    While not perfect, Mayor Bing is facing up to reality. Unlike many other politicians, who use police and fire cuts as a form of human shields, Bing says police, fire, and water and sewarage are the last to see layoffs. I’d add DDOT. For all it’s faults, Detroiters need DDOT to get to work. If even a few thousand lose jobs due to bus cuts, consider the lost income tax to the city and the inevitable property tax loss, foreclosure, and yet another abandoned property in a once vibrant neighborhood.

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