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Detroit’s decade of growth has been separate and unequal, new study finds

Detroit Future City found that Detroit's recovery has been unequal and disparities exist in housing, income and access to capital. (Shutterstock photo)

The average value of homes owned by white Detroiters is $46,000 more than Black-owned homes and $39,000 higher than those owned by Latinos, a new study by Detroit Future City finds. 

Click here to download Detroit Future City’s 104- page report on “The State of Economic Equity in Detroit.” (Provided by Detroit Future City)

That’s just one of the stark gaps that have emerged between white people and Black and Latino residents in Detroit, according to the report titled “The State of Economic Equity in Detroit.” 

The study takes a comprehensive look at the city from 2010 to 2019, a period that saw billions in investment and the rise of a shiny new sports arena, new upscale housing and tony restaurants.


But the signs of prosperity belie the growing disparity between white residents and everyone else in this majority Black city. Generally, it’s African Americans who lost the most ground in the last decade, the study finds. Black people make up 78 percent of the city’s population, white people represent 15 percent, and Latinos 8 percent, according to latest Census estimates.

The data gives context to the raging “two Detroits” debate: that policies focused too much on giving tax breaks for downtown projects and new housing where rent is too expensive for most residents. Meanwhile, neighborhoods and longtime Detroiters grappled with mass tax foreclosures, prohibitive lending practices and inadequate public transit. 

White residents helped create new middle-class enclaves downtown and Corktown on the Southwest side; Indian Village on the Eastside and Rosedale Park in Northwest, the report finds. (Provided by Detroit Future City)

Stark differences

Even after a decade of an overall healthy economy, the differences between such things as life expectancy, access to quality education, jobs, home mortgages and business loans often grew wider in Detroit among racial and ethnic groups. 

The 104-page study should be used to press for major reforms in policies at the federal, state and city level, said Anika Goss, executive director of Detroit Future City. The nonprofit is a think tank focused on Detroit land use and economic development. Goss also is one of the authors of the study. 

The good news is many institutions are already looking at policy changes and, in some cases, putting them into practice, Goss said.

The study is meant to be a baseline of data so that people can understand the impact of policies that create dangerous imbalances among racial and ethnic groups. 

The data shows many Black and Latino residents are still dealing with the results of past policies, as well as current practices perpetuating the former imbalances.  

“I truly believe that you can’t really have a conversation around…race and ethnicity equity until you are talking about money," Goss said. "So, I want to know where the money is going, who is benefitting, how is Detroit is growing, and can everyone benefit from Detroit’s growth and future prosperity?”

“The limitation of wealth, the inhibited practices to build small businesses, the inability to access mortgages — all of those things are a direct result of former discriminatory practices” that have not been remedied, Goss said. 

The report found that African Americans struggle with access to quality employment and the reasons range from lack of transportation to the need for support for minority owned small businesses. (Provided by Detroit Future City)
The report defines a middle-wage job as paying $37,000 or more annually and a middle class neighborhood is where more than half of households have a median income ranging from $52,500 to $197,000. (Provided by Detroit Future City)

New segregation

The city’s new prosperity is also creating a more segregated city, racially and economically. In 2015, the median household incomes between all races and ethnicities in Detroit was fairly equal, the study finds. But starting in 2017, the number of white residents with higher incomes in the city began to rise significantly compared to African Americans and Latinos. 

In 2010, white people made up 10 percent of Detroit’s population. The latest estimate is that they now make up at least 15 percent of the city — the first significant increase in the white population since 1950. That helped create new middle-class enclaves downtown and Corktown on the Southwest side; Indian Village on the Eastside and Rosedale Park in Northwest, the report finds. 

Simultaneously, there’s been an exodus of Black middle-class Detroiters. It’s resulted in a sharp overall decline of middle-class neighborhoods citywide. Only 5 percent of residents now live in a neighborhood where more than half of households have a median income ranging from $52,500 to $197,000.

The city had 11 neighborhoods that could be defined as middle class in 2019, the report finds. That’s half the number of middle-class neighborhoods the city had in 2010. 

Institutional change 

Many financial institutions and policymakers appear willing to address these disparities, Goss said. She hopes the study will broaden the discussion for many Detroiters. 

“If we are in this moment in time where people want to create change, then we should take advantage of it,” she said. “There are all kinds of opportunities.”

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