One promise Mike Duggan can’t keep?

Detroit growth unlikely

Continued population declines in Wayne County suggest Detroit is still losing residents, according to the latest Census data. Since 2010, the county's population has fallen by more than 71,000. The Census will release estimates on Detroit's population in May.

Source: U.S. Census population estimates

Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan has said repeatedly that his performance should be judged by whether the city’s population has grown.

If Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan is to be taken at his word, perhaps he shouldn’t be running for re-election this year.

Since his 2013 election, Duggan has often said that Detroit would gain population while he was mayor. And that he should be judged by whether the city reverses a 60-year population decline during his term. Duggan even told the Wall Street Journal in 2014 that “the single standard a mayor should be defined on is whether the population of the city is going up or down,” adding that he didn’t expect to win another term in 2017 if the population didn’t increase.

So far, it hasn’t.

U.S. Census county data for 2016 released this month indicate the city is likely still losing residents. Wayne County’s population fell by to 7,696 to 1.75 million. It was the second worst county population loss in the nation.

The county data does not specifically say which cities gained or lost population; however, the city of Detroit comprises 39 percent of the county’s population and has accounted for about 60 percent of the county’s recent population losses, recent Census data show.

There’s still a slim chance. New Census estimates for cities come out in May. But demographers said it’s unlikely, if not impossible, for Detroit to have gained population based on the county numbers.

“My great prediction was that Duggan would get his wish and 2016 would be the first year of Detroit population gain, but you can’t lose 7,000 people and some of them not come from Detroit,” said Kurt Metzger, a demographer and founder of Data Driven Detroit, a nonprofit that collects information on the city’s neighborhoods.

“Duggan will have to say, ‘My success is seeing a steady decrease in the loss,’” said Metzger, who is also mayor of the Oakland County suburb of Pleasant Ridge.

Estimates from last year peg the city’s population at 677,116, making it the 21st largest city in the United States. It was the fourth-largest city in 1950, with 1.9 million residents.

John Roach, a spokesman for Duggan, declined to comment on the countywide Census data, calling the numbers “speculative.” The mayor will comment when city estimates are released in a few months, Roach said.

Duggan announced in February that he would run for a second term,  acknowledging that his opponents will point out that businesses and residents continue to flee the city.

Largest population gains

since 2010

Largest percentage population gains

since 2010
3Grand Traverse5,0985.9

Largest population declines

since 2010
4St. Clair-3,453-2.1

Largest percentage population declines

since 2010

Close, but no reversal

The city’s population decline has ticked up and down over the past few years alongside the city’s political ups and downs: in 2011, the city lost 6,849 residents and another 5,518 in 2012.

Then in 2013, when the city was in bankruptcy, the population loss ticked up to 8,732. In 2014, during the city’s exit from bankruptcy and Duggan’s first year in office, the population loss grew to 9,727. That year the city lost more population than the county as people left the city for suburbs.

However in 2015, the population decline showed signs for optimism: the city lost only 3,107 residents. That prompted Duggan to double down on his hopes for a population increase, telling the Detroit Free Press the city was “at a historic tipping point.”

Since Duggan’s election, the city emerged from the nation’s largest municipal bankruptcy and city services saw measurable improvements such as better garbage collection, new street lights and new city buses. The downtown and Midtown areas continue to see surges in new businesses and housing.

Still, critics say Duggan’s population promise is foolhardy in its audacity. That the first-term mayor was stalking a Moby Dick goal of the most elusive proportions.

Duggan’s mayoral opponent, State Sen. Coleman A. Young II, (D-Detroit), said the mayor made an unattainable promise based on his misunderstanding of neighborhood problems.

“As far as I’m concerned, him not keeping that promise to not run if the population didn’t go up really is just the tip of the iceberg ...,” Young told Bridge.

“The reason why we’re not going to be able to keep the population stable is because nobody is able to get a job … and the education system is not where it needs to be. Jobs in Detroit for Detroiters are going down and jobs for suburbanites in Detroit are going up.”

Quality of life concerns

Demographer Xuan Liu said history isn’t on the mayor’s side.

“The city’s population peaked in 1950 census,” said Liu, manager of research and data analysis for the Southeast Michigan Council of Governments.

“Unfortunately we don’t have annual population estimates going all the way back to 1950. So we don’t know if there were any years since 1950 that the city’s population increased.”

For some, Detroit’s population increase is not only about quality of life, but livelihood.

Dorian Harvey, a realtor who handles commercial and real estate properties in Detroit, said the city can definitely stop residents from fleeing in the next few years.

The key will be concentrating on turning renters into tax-paying homeowners, especially in outlying neighborhoods, he said. The city has more low-income workers and they need credit and down payment assistance to rehab or buy homes.

Without it, they will keep leaving, Harvey said. But it’s not all on the mayor to make it happen, he added.

“It’s got to be a philanthropic, business-driven community that sees the value in this,” said Harvey, president-elect for the Detroit Association of Realtors. “The mayor could give it his blessing.”

To focus on community life and the city’s future after bankruptcy, five nonprofit media outlets have formed the Detroit Journalism Cooperative (DJC).

The Center for Michigan’s Bridge Magazine is the convening partner for the group, which includes Detroit Public Television (DPTV), Michigan Radio, WDET, Chalkbeat Detroit and New Michigan Media, a partnership of ethnic and minority newspapers.

Funded by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation and the Ford Foundation, the DJC partners are reporting about and creating community engagement opportunities relevant to the city’s bankruptcy, recovery and restructuring.

Facts matter. Trust matters. Journalism matters.

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Mary Ellen Howard
Thu, 03/30/2017 - 9:03am

New streetlights just ain't gonna do it, Mikey. Taking the funds which were supposed to help residents maintain and keep their homes, and using those funds for demolition of 10,000 homes resulted in more people being forced out. Neighborhoods have been destroyed and disappeared. Detroiters need affordable and low income housing, but under your administration, we see only pricey condos being built using tax breaks from our tax dollars to benefit white, suburban yuppies. Yes, you have improved the city with restaurants, stadiums, and condos, but little, if nothing has been done outside Midtown and downtown to help long term residents of color who struggle to sustain their neighborhoods. It's time for new leadership in Detroit.

Carlo D
Thu, 03/30/2017 - 12:52pm

Mary Ellen know detroit's neighborhood's aren't going to be fixed overnight right? You ppl kill me with this crap! especially the low income affordable housing nonsense don't get me wrong im not against affordable housing but the whole city doesn't have to be just can't grow a city with affordable housing Yes senior's and elderly need it but not women with 5-10 kid's just looking for a hand out Detroit neighborhood's need Gated communities to help keep the ghetto ppl out.. Hell! Most of detroit's neighborhood's been disappearing for year's come on now...Duggan has included low income housing ..Duggan is the best detroit is going to get he has been the best mayor Detroit has had in 47years plus his competition is Horrid!!! I guess you want coleman jr a guy that can't get anything passed in Lansing...

Sun, 04/02/2017 - 9:31am

Mary Ellen Howard- Those pricey developments from residential to commercial to entertainment along with non-homestead property taxes bring in the majority of tax revenue for the city to pay for the services, of which everybody can agree have improved since Bankruptcy. I suggest you read the Bankruptcy Filings to learn of the Great Inefficiencies, Mismanagement and Corruption of the city of Detroit.

Unfortunately, Detroit is dominated by Generational Poverty. Approximately, 75% of Detroit Girls have babies by the time they are 22 years of age . These mothers are already living in poverty. There isn't an Educational System anywhere that can successfully educate this majority School District demographic that researchers are starting to call Comfortable Poverty. Until the Culture of the Detroit Residents takes a critical Shift, not much will change.

As for jobs, the Skilled Trades Unions struggle dearly with finding Detroit Residents to got thru the Training and Apprentice Programs. Just in the last few weeks, small companies in Detroit struggle to find Detroit Residents for low-skilled jobs. Until the Detroit Residential Community faces reality, not much will change.

Thu, 03/30/2017 - 9:22am

I know the workers and some of the elected officials in my Western Wayne suburb would love it if the suburb could change from Wayne County to Oakland County. Western Wayne has consistently had an outflow of financial resources to support Wayne County. Oakland County has consistently had a 3 year running balanced budget with lower taxes and better services. Gee, I wonder why?

Ren Farley
Thu, 03/30/2017 - 9:41am

The rate of population loss in the city of Detroit has slowed in recent years. That is a dramatic change after the tremendous loss in the first decade of this century. Two demographic trends are operating in Detroit. The middle class population continues to leave but, apparently, at a much lower rate than in the past while Downtown, Midtown and the east waterfront attract a modest number of new residents. Alas, the city is not attracting many international immigrants. I would not be surprised to see a 2020 census count of between 650,000 and 710,000.

Kenneth Darga
Thu, 03/30/2017 - 2:46pm

We will need to wait for the 2020 Census for definitive information from the Census Bureau about Detroit's population trend. The Census Bureau's annual population estimates for states and counties are fairly reliable--they are based primarily on federal tax returns--but the annual estimates for cities, villages and townships are not. The county populations are allocated down to the local level based primarily on housing statistics. The more successful the city is in demolishing vacant housing, the more the city's housing stock goes down. That decreases the population estimate even though the demolished housing was vacant. Likewise, people who move into previously vacant housing increase the city's actual population without increasing the Census Bureau's estimate. Until the 2020 Census, it would be better to ignore the official population estimates and look at things like job data, utility hookups, and city tax returns.

John S.
Thu, 03/30/2017 - 10:47pm

It would be useful to identify and survey former residents of the city and just ask them why they left. It's called a problem assessment. There will be a lot of reasons, but how do they rank in terms of their importance?

William Davis
Sun, 04/02/2017 - 5:44pm

#LivoniaMike he himself said " That the single standard a mayor should be defined on whether the population of the city is going up or down" it comes down to poor leadership him using the Federal hardest hit funds mainly for demolition of homes inside the city of Detroit and we did and still do need some demolition But that fund was set-up to help people stay in there homes , If #LivoniaMike had used the hardest hit funds 50% on helping people stay in there home by paying back taxes and water bills that would had been a win win with more money going to the City of Detroit to help pay for other services. The next big step to aid the City of Detroit is to vote out the mayor we have now .

Fri, 10/13/2017 - 9:42am

Turning population numbers around quickly is a poor measure of how a mayor is doing and he should have never used it.

A better measure is how well is he representing the city and he has failed miserably, especially in the first 9 months in office.

In those months major decisions were made, like surrendering cash flow from the Windsor Tunnel, parking lots and decks, surrendering ownership of the Joe Lewis Arena.

While these transactions were taking place no one at the table represented Detroit and therefore the citizens of the city has no idea whether the bancrutcy was fair towards the city. Duggan should have been in those meeting representing the city.

Orr was hired by the Governor and represented the state. Duggan should have used his bully pulpit to demand a voice. Instead he went along to get along. This is not a good quality while being a large city.