One house, one family at a time, immigrants are helping refill Detroit

While media stories over the last few years have understandably chronicled the intense redevelopment of downtown and Midtown Detroit – including stories on just about every single retail opening and corporate move – immigrants have quietly been helping to stabilize and revitalize key neighborhoods in Detroit.

Global Detroit’s recent analysis of Census data from 2010-2014 demonstrates remarkable trends that suggest immigrants are playing a critical, but largely unnoticed and untold role in the city’s revitalization.

Unfortunately, Detroit’s U.S.-born population has continued to shrink over the last five years, decreasing 5.3 percent, which translates to 35,991 fewer U.S.-born Detroit residents between 2010 and 2014, according to the Census’ American Community Survey (ACS) one-year average. The rate of population loss during these years is considerably slower than the rate of loss during the prior decade, when Detroit lost approximately one-fourth of its population.

From 2000-2010, the annual rate of population loss is estimated to have exceeded 25,000 residents per year, while the last five years of data would put the annual rate of loss of U.S.-born around 7,000 residents per year, offset by a growth of foreign-born population slightly less than 1,000 residents per year.

But Detroit’s immigrant population grew a remarkable 12.7 percent, or 4,362 additional foreign-born residents, during the same 2010-14 period. Immigrants, as a share of the overall population in Detroit, grew from 4.8 percent to 5.7 percent during this period.

Evidence is pretty clear that immigrants are critical, if not necessary, to population growth in Rust Belt cities in the U.S. From 1960-’80, 29 of America’s 50 largest cities lost population. Detroit ranked fifth in the nation for greatest loss, shedding 28 percent of its residents over those two decades. In the 25 years after 1980, 14 of those 29 cities experienced population growth and immigrants played a substantial role, including accounting for all the growth in about half of the rebounding cities. Simply put, no great American city has been able to rebound from population loss without significant immigration growth.

The 2010 Global Detroit strategy report set forth a strategy to “cultivate immigrant and ethnic revitalization of neighborhoods in the City of Detroit and the region’s core communities.” Global Detroit has been working with a host of partners to execute this strategy.


Last week, Global Detroit, on behalf of the Welcoming Economies Global Network, worked with the Fiscal Policy Institute to release new research on the importance of immigrants as a source of new homeowners and vacant property acquisition in Detroit and 22 other Rust Belt cities. The research includes a new online tool that enables users to pick any of the 23 cities, select the cost of a new or rehabbed home, and determine the number of immigrant households currently renting who could afford the home.

The tool highlights that there are over 3,300 immigrant families renting in Detroit who could affordably acquire vacant properties and rehab them into viable housing (using $50,000 as acquisition and rehab costs). Global Detroit has been working to help immigrant families acquire and rehab vacant homes in southwest Detroit by acquiring tax-foreclosed properties from the Wayne County treasurer and Detroit Land Bank Authority. Earlier this month our 15th Spanish-speaking family successfully completed a vacant home purchase, many of who are first-time homeowners. The research and tool were featured in The Atlantic and CNN Money.

Global Detroit’s efforts to revitalize Detroit’s “opportunity neighborhoods,” as it calls them, is not limited to rehabbing vacant housing. Working with ProsperUS Detroit and the Detroit Economic Growth Corporation, the organization has helped immigrant entrepreneurs apply for and receive grants to expand their businesses and create more jobs.

Global Detroit also recently completed a six-month engagement process in the Banglatown neighborhood, along the Detroit-Hamtramck border, that brought together Bengali, Yemeni, African-American, and white residents to identify common concerns and priorities and develop coordinated approaches to improving the neighborhood for all residents. Global Detroit is working with Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan’s new Office of Immigrant Affairs and the Detroit City Council Immigration Task Force to create stronger and more vibrant neighborhoods across the city.

While the census numbers are encouraging that our strategies are taking root, revitalizing neighborhoods is about more than growing the population. Immigrants are helping to occupy vacant housing, launch new businesses, and volunteer for neighborhood block clubs and safety patrols. New immigrant families in Detroit help raise the quality of life for everyone, including African Americans and longtime residents.

Immigration is the untold American community revitalization strategy that has worked for generations and is very much a viable strategy in Detroit.

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Kevin Grand
Sat, 11/05/2016 - 10:26am
So, Mr. Tobocman has found a band aid (albeit, not a very good one). Now to address the elephant in the room: Why is the patient even bleeding in the first place?
Sun, 11/06/2016 - 6:53am
Your comment re why the bleeding is looking the wrong way. OMG, this mess is at least 50 years old. Time to move on and look forward with positive ideas and action plans. Be thankful this is now finally happening. Hopefully it will work out for the best with the right kind of on-going support.
Kevin Grand
Sun, 11/06/2016 - 8:50am
Okay, I'm game. Why isn't looking at the cause of the problem, the first step in actually solving it?
jesse atwell
Sun, 11/06/2016 - 9:47am
So now the solution is to put immigrants in place to offset white flight? Just how is this going to "offset" the economic problems of no business, no jobs and anti Americanism prevalent amongst these " new arrivals"? Is Dearbornistan now engulfing Detroit? This whole thing started with the election of Coleman Young who told whites to "get out past Eight Mile"....Detroit not only didn't need them any longer, it would be better off without them....Well, just how's that direction working out for Detroit now? Business's have been exhorted for decades now to "come back" to Detroit to rebuild it again and again. All this while it drifted further and further into debt and deep, engrained political corruption compliments of the Democrat Party. All the while business's were not just leaving en masse and taking jobs to Mexico because the Democrat Party exhorted more and more taxes and placed greater and greater smothering regulations on them and us. How many times has the legislature moved to "save Detroit....with no results? I, for one, am not interested in saving something, when there literally is no other path than moving Muslims in and me paying the social engineering costs.
Investor 4Detroit
Wed, 11/16/2016 - 5:46am
I am a first time small investor in Detroit Housing. None U.S. citizen, and I fly 3000 miles to Detroit. I acquire and rehab vacant homes.( only 2 at present ) But can I, as a potential British white immigrant, get a $ 50,000 grant to rehab these homes,-- NO. As a man willing to rehab these homes, giving additional jobs to people, and in my small way, helping to revitalise Detroit, Can I get into U.S.A. as an immigrant, - - - NO. ProsperUS Detroit ( ) provides financing up to $15,000 for start-up businesses AIMED at immigrants ) Other sites give up to $ 50,000 for house rehabs mainly for immigrants. If Mr. Steve Tobocman is reading this, may I suggest you contemplate importing immigrants who are preferably white, ( no disrespect to current population of Detroit ) English is their first language, they have Christian values, even though they may be none practicing, who have the U.S.A. / European mentality, and understand ( + accept ) your way of life. I am willing to emigrate to your county, help rebuild Detroit am investing and importing money into your country, which you need right now, but am barred from becoming a U.S.A. citizen, because I don't have a job to go to. ( I have my own job of helping revitalize Detroit. ) Before any one states, but you can apply for a visa to stay 2 years, then you have not read the complexity, the $ 500,000 to 1 million deposit required by your Government to start a business in U.S.A., and to employ a minimum of 10 people. I cannot borrow money from Britain ( U.K.) to rebuild houses in another country. I cannot borrow money from U.S.A. to rebuild houses as I am not a U.S.A. citizen. But rebuilding houses I am, for your citizens, your Working class who need low cost, but decent houses. Global Detroit is working with Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan’s new Office of Immigrant Affairs and the Detroit City Council Immigration Task Force to create stronger and more vibrant neighborhoods across the city. But I am left out in the cold. Thanks, Rant over.