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Bridge Michigan
Michigan’s nonpartisan, nonprofit news source

Opinion | Detroit tax breaks need to help neighbors, not just business empires

One doesn’t have to walk around Detroit long, both in downtown and in the neighborhoods, to see that there is a perception of two cities.

Real or not, longtime residents feel left behind and believe the new “D” does not include the neighborhoods.  While many people deny neighborhoods are in fact left behind, that is in fact the belief of many Detroiters. Demolishing houses and creating empty lots, although a very good start, does not constitute a revitalized neighborhood nor will it be a catalyst for safe streets and schools.

Candidates for governor in this year’s campaign should realize new policies are needed to help revitalize neighborhoods in Detroit and other cities.

Historically, tax breaks have been given to big businesses and developers to expand and build empires. That model was and continues to be successful in “popular” sections of Detroit.

But why are we not giving the same tax breaks to the local businesses and startups inside the neighborhoods?  

When a small business takes a risk, they are putting their life savings on the line.  When big business takes a risk, they simply move on to the next project. No one loses their jobs or their life savings.

Instead, candidates should consider a “people’s tax break.” The concept would work like this: If a small business wants to open new in a neighborhood, a land bank (city, county or state) would waive the property taxes for the first few years to provide the new business an opportunity to stabilize and survive.

This concept also works for existing businesses that want to expand in the neighborhoods. If a business expands and/or improves its property, the improved portion of the assessed value that naturally causes an increase can be waived by the land bank for a set number of years depending on the size of the improvement.

The land bank can work with levels of government to waive all property taxes or protect certain taxes such as ones designated for schools.  

The same concept could even apply for homeowners as well to improve or build new homes.

Does the city lose taxes in this situation? Not really, because without the neighborhood development moving forward there would be no new taxes generated.

Besides, if the big players get the tax break for their projects, why not level the playing field?

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