Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan has stated many times that population growth is one of his biggest goals.
And while new residents are coming into apartments and lofts in the central city, efforts to improve Detroit’s far-flung neighborhoods are just as critical. The Detroit Land Bank has targeted salvageable abandoned homes, selling them through online auctions. The Department of Neighborhoods, created in 2014 by Duggan to service residential areas (and separate from the Land Bank), employs a variety of strategies to stabilize and spruce up residential neighborhoods, most notably through its team of hands-on district managers.
Victoria Kovari, general manager of the department, said the city is continually gathering data on its performance, which has not been done consistently in the past. With the Department of Neighborhoods being an entirely new entity, and the district managers the first to hold their jobs, it’s not easy to gauge how much more responsive the city has become to residents’ calls and complaints.
“We created the infrastructure from practically nothing,” Kovari said. The city was under emergency management at the time, and there was little money for creating a new department – and under the plan of adjustment, “there still isn’t.”
In the past, the city had a system of neighborhood city halls, but all have been closed.
Starting from scratch, the neighborhoods team members “took a few months to figure out what our actual metrics really were,” Kovari said. That settled, the city reports the following accomplishments for March through December 2014:
- 175 new block clubs formed
- 167 vacant lots sold
- 78 community partnership agreements http://www.buildingdetroit.org/our-programs/community-partership-program/ (which offer incentives for neighborhood cleanup or to attract new residents) executed or in process with the Detroit Land Bank
- Over 13,000 resident complaints addressed
- 973 dump sites or lots cleaned
- Over 13,615 volunteers engaged in community blight removal activities.
- Over 7,000 registered volunteers participating in Angels Night, the Halloween Eve period when in the past arsonists have plagued the city. Volunteers patrol neighborhoods or watch a vacant house on their block.
Bridge Magazine is convening partner for the Detroit Journalism Cooperative (DJC), comprised of five nonprofit media outlets focused on the city’s future after bankruptcy. The group includes Michigan Radio,WDET, Detroit Public Television and New Michigan Media. Support for the DJC comes from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, Renaissance Journalism’s Michigan Reporting Initiative and the Ford Foundation.