According to a recently-released report
analyzing construction rates for 2003 calendar year, Detroit was
the third-fastest growing city in the region in terms of
residential construction, behind only Macomb Township and Canton.
The report, compiled by the Southeast Michigan Council of
Governments, ranks cities based on the number of housing permits
issued per year. It found that residential growth in Detroit was up
54 percent from 2002 when the city ranked eighth on the same
list.

Mira Levitan

This spurt in residential development can mean only good things
for Detroit, which has for decades been losing citizens to its
suburbs. The appeal of new, affordable housing is crucial to
reversing that trend. The return of suburbanites to Detroit will
not only help local business, but also drive the
“Renaissance” which mayors of the past envisioned. An
increasing city population will bring jobs and money back into
Detroit. Since people demand services such as restaurants, grocers
and laundromats, it is inevitable that population growth will fuel
parallel economic growth.

The benefits will not be immediate, however. The City of Detroit
is deeply in debt; for the current year, it is expected to run a
deficit in excess of $200 million. While increased construction
will increase property tax revenue (a large portion of the Detroit
budget), demolitions still outpace new construction. Jim Rogers,
the SEMCOG data manager, estimates that it will take at least
another 15 years before Detroit will see true population
growth.

While Detroit is traditionally regarded as a low-income area,
the report also indicates that some of the new construction is
targeted directly at the middle class. The Bagley Housing
Association began land development in Mexicantown during the 1990s,
when average house prices for the area hovered around $10,000
— less than the average car. Through the years, the group has
been building progressively more expensive houses and is now
undertaking the construction of new condominiums priced at about
$160,000. While much more expensive than the average Detroit house,
these condos are firmly within the price range of the average
suburban middle-class family. Potentially, when coupled with the
close proximity to major office centers such as General
Motors’ Renaissance Center and attractions such as Comerica
Park, families might be tempted to move back to the city.

In the rush to revitalize, however, Detroit must not forget its
most needy. Despite economic progress, poverty still plagues
Detroit. Thus, attention must be paid to low income housing as
well. While attracting new residents is important, it is also
crucial to construct modern, affordable housing for current
citizens of Detroit. The construction of new homes will help
facilitate the destruction of older, more dangerous residential
structures, some of which fail to meet even rudimentary safety
codes.

Overall, this new report is a beacon of hope for the city. As a
long-term development strategy, nothing has proven more successful
than residential construction. The benefits, although unperceivable
at the present, will hopefully affect the economic, civic and
social aspects of the city to such a degree that Detroit may
finally become the “Renaissance” city it proclaims to
be.

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