Detroit’s problem is a lack of jobs, not too much gentrification

Ida Byrd-Hill

Ida Byrd-Hill is the president of Uplift, Inc., a nonprofit tech diversity and inclusion firm.

Native Detroiters do not have a problem with gentrification – that is, when deteriorated houses and businesses in urban neighborhoods are bought by upper-income families, causing property values to rise. Native Detroiters desire profits, too.

As an economist, I know gentrification only works to improve a local economy when a fast-growing large corporation, like Quicken Loans, or many retails shops, open and hire local residents. Buying and renovating property alone does not improve a local economy.

What is occurring in Detroit is not true gentrification; white suburbanites are moving into existing middle-class and affluent neighborhoods such as Midtown, Lafayette Park, Boston-Edison, Corktown, Indian Village, Palmer Woods, North Rosedale, Fitzgerald, Grandmont and East English Village. Some of these neighborhoods qualify for a rent or mortgage subsidy by large employers. Before the 2008 recession, some homes in Indian Village and Palmer Woods rose to nearly 2 million dollars in value. These homes and apartments have already been renovated and polished.

What has native Detroiters furious is that they invested in houses and businesses that grew wildly in value and now those houses and commercial spaces are worth less than their mortgages. My own house in East English Village grew in market value from $67,000 to $210,000 in 5 short years. Today, that house that I poured $50,000 in renovations into, is only worth $40,000 after price increases the past 5 years.

Detroit real estate plunged in value due to the mortgage crisis, but incessant horrible press surrounding the mayoral administration of Kwame Kilpatrick didn’t help. Local and national news reports portrayed Detroit as a cesspool of blighted neighborhoods where uneducated residents needed to be “saved.” The election of Mayor Mike Duggan, who is white, led to a change in narrative, to Detroit as the great comeback city, where newly arrived residents (like Duggan, who moved from Livonia to run), came to make homes and businesses, to paint on the “blank canvas,” as though native-born residents hadn’t been doing that all along.

In my book, Invisible Talent Market, I note that this pattern continues, with some city leaders insinuating that native Detroiters are not skilled enough to work in tech, skilled trades or executive jobs, nor innovative enough to manage large-scale workforce development programming to move people out of poverty. Business leaders have told us what is best for us, rather than ask us what we want – as if we have no dreams, ideas or goals. This is especially true since suburbanites have started moving into Detroit, where property values increased pre-2008 faster than any Metro Detroit suburb.

Business, foundation and city leaders have provided millions of dollars in contracts, venture capital, press, grants and jobs to attract 8,000 white residents. This investment has not created jobs for native Detroiters, nor has it reduced Detroit's child poverty rate of 59 percent, the highest rate of large cities in America. In fact, Detroit’s child poverty rate has increased the past 3 years, signifying current economic and workforce development strategies are not working. This population growth is not significant enough to make real economic impact.

Native Detroiters welcome natural gentrification, but abhor the artificial spigot of programs that have distributed millions of dollars to non-Detroiters, under the guise of helping Detroit.

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Fri, 05/05/2017 - 3:28pm

Yep, a small white enclave of young hipsters is not turning Detroit around as much as the media likes to think it is, most of the media coverage in that regard has been of a self congratulatory tone that does not reflect where Detroit is really at.

Sat, 05/06/2017 - 7:47am

I don't know where to begin to respond to Ida Byrd-Hill. She writes much gobly gook. Black Detroit fails to acknowledge the root of childhood poverty continuing to grow for the past 5 decades or more. The reason is the theory and realism of Comfortable Poverty. The destruction of the Black Family and the lack of emphasis on education is the root of the lack of success. There is not a public school educational model anywhere that can successfully educate a demographic of children that come from Generational Comfortable Poverty. That is whey for decades you have seen attempts of various mechanisms to separate those that have the desire and passion to learn via Charter Schools, Public Specialty Schools, etc. Skilled Trade Unions are BEGGING for Detroiters. Unfortunately, very few pass the Training for one reason or another. As reported in the local news recently, 80-85% of Blacks that enter Wayne State never graduate. Don't blame or put the burden on the non-profits or Corporations that create the jobs for lack o success in getting out of poverty, focus on the Root Cause.

Mon, 05/08/2017 - 11:13am

A better theory to cite would be Fordism

Wed, 05/10/2017 - 6:14pm

Great comment Mark. A business who needs a skilled tradesman is going to hire a skilled tradesman. If one has not been trained for the skill, one will not be hired. The break down of the family and family values since the failed Great Society programs has destroyed Black Families per Thomas Sowell, the great African American journalist . Lack of emphasis on education surely is the problem that businesses face hiring. Detroit Public Schools have been a mess for years, and the passing of students from one grade to the next without meeting standards does not help the student. I would like to see Detroit lead again, and one place to do so would be offering Technical/Vocational school training at age 14-15. A good welder does not need to learn Calculus or Oceanography, they just need to be trained. I have met many intelligent blacks and whites who came from broken families with little education available in the home, but some turned out to be the among the best construction carpenters, pipe fitters, and welders I've met. Fix the educational process and Detroit an truly become great again. Without it will never come to fruition

Ida Byrd-Hill
Sat, 05/13/2017 - 11:49am

The destruction of DPS was created by White Consultants hired by Snyder appointed Black Emergency Managers the residents did not choose. For 20 years DPS has had these emergency managers. They diluted the curriculum phased out career technical education to eliminate Detroiters access to skilled trades. The stole 40,000 nets books I forced them to by with Federal grants They even eliminated computer programming classes in the midst of the digital revolution. They did all of this to cause middle class families to move from the city of Detroit to pursue perceptionally BETTER educational opportunities.

Sun, 05/07/2017 - 12:38pm

Not sure what your point was but given that you claim to be an economist, would it be realistic that given the population loss experienced by Detroit for the last 20? years this in itself would be the real factor to tank the real estate market and that the "mortgage crisis" just was a minor added distortion. This seems to be the case in any area with a declining population (the UP). So getting bodies to moving into these areas is the answer to their economic malaise regardless of their race or relative wealth, as opposed to the previous commentator on this subject.

Michigan Observer
Sun, 05/07/2017 - 3:49pm

Matt is correct when he says, " So getting bodies to moving into these areas is the answer to their economic malaise regardless of their race or relative wealth, as opposed to the previous commentator on this subject." People moving into Detroit will put upward pressure on real estate values, but perhaps more important is the incomes they bring with them. They bring purchasing power to he city and provide tax revenue to support city services.

Sun, 05/07/2017 - 9:09pm

Randolph Vocational was closed just in the nick of time . Love the article Ida it speaks to truth.Some just don't like hearing it.

Mon, 05/08/2017 - 11:16am

"Gentrification" implies that there's a stable existing ethnic or minority community that's being displaced, first by artists and then real estate development. Repopulating downtown with suburbanite jobs is not gentrification.

Rene' Thomas
Sat, 05/13/2017 - 12:17pm

On point!