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In Detroit, nervous residents wonder if bankruptcy will mean less crime, higher home values


 

DETROIT – In Detroit, it can take police nearly an hour to respond to a 911 call. Despite razing close to 10,000 vacant houses, three times as many still stand with windows smashed and doors ripped off. At night, many streets and even freeways are dangerously shrouded in darkness because tens of thousands of street lights don’t work.

This is Detroit, an insolvent city seeking to find its way through the uncertainty of the largest city in U.S. history to file for bankruptcy.

For decades, residents have heard one city official after another vow to improve city services but little would be done. On Friday — a day after the city filed the unprecedented bankruptcy — they were given a deadline.

Gov. Rick Snyder and Detroit emergency manager, Kevyn Orr, promised weary residents that they would see better city services in 30 to 60 days.

“Now is our opportunity to stop 60 years of decline,” Snyder said Friday during a press conference just north of downtown.

Though Thursday’s bankruptcy filing had been feared for months, the path ahead for the once mighty Motor City is still uncertain. As Detroit starts the likely lengthy process of shedding its debt, residents, businesses owners and retirees nervously wonder if they’ll see improvements after years of neglect or if another round of promises will go unfulfilled.

Resident Dennis Talbert has waged a battle to improve his northwest side neighbourhood of Brightmoor for years, pleading with city officials to raze rows of vacant homes that have been stripped of electrical wiring and plumbing.

So far, none have been torn down.

Mayor Dave Bing continues with his plan to demolish 10,000 empty houses before his term ends in December, and some private companies are jumping in to tear down dangerous buildings. But it’s costly and the city’s inventory is too massive to make a real dent.

“I don’t think the trickle-down theory works in Brightmoor,” Talbert said. “The whole issue of bankruptcy will not impact poor people. Only when organizations start moving our way will those houses be removed.”

In the heyday of its industrial power, Detroit used to boast of having one of the highest owner-occupied housing rates in the country thanks to the then-booming auto industry that offered well-paying jobs and a gateway to the middle class. In the 1950s, 1.8 million people lived here. Now, the population struggles to stay about 700,000. With neighbourhoods in neglect, property values have plummeted.

One pocket of promise is in the Woodbridge neighbourhood between the city’s rebounding Midtown and downtown areas. The homes on Woodbridge’s tree-lined Avery Street are mostly occupied and well-kept — something that attracted Daniel Mercer to a structurally sound but cosmetically needy two-story Victorian built in 1900.

“I used to come driving up and down the street all the time because I work in the area … and I happened to see a (for-sale) sign, and it went up that day,” said Mercer, 54, a painter and handyman. “There are a lot of people that have the same love for these old houses that I have … and the passion to fix them up.”

He bought the home about six weeks ago and plans to move in with his wife on Aug 10. The fact that he’s moving in at the same time the city is filing for bankruptcy isn’t lost on him.

He believes property values will climb even if they take an initial dip because of bankruptcy.

“We’ve got a 10-year plan, to be honest with you,” he said. “There’s a lot of work to do.”

Buried in the hundreds of pages of bankruptcy documents is the name Hercules & Hercules, Inc. For more than two decades, the janitorial supply company has done business with the city, but on occasion, Detroit couldn’t pay and the company allowed it to forego payments. For Belinda Jefferson, president of the family-run firm, the bankruptcy doesn’t change its commitment.

“We know the city is facing challenges and we’re going to stick by them,” said Jefferson, who declined to reveal how much Hercules & Hercules is owed.

The company is one of more 7,000 vendors listed among the 100,000 creditors documented in the bankruptcy filing. Those with debt tied to revenue streams like water and sewerage fees will get paid. Unsecured debt holders like Hercules & Hercules will have to stand in line and see what remains if a judge gives Detroit the OK to proceed with bankruptcy.

“We will treat everyone in the unsecured class equally because that’s what’s required under the law,” Orr said. “How that breaks out is a function of the math.”

The phones are lighting up at the offices of the Retired Detroit Police & Fire Fighters Association.

“The thing we can tell them right now is: ‘Nothing’s happened yet. Our pension hopefully will be there on Aug. 1 when it comes in,'” said the group’s vice-president, Greg Trozak.

Detroit has about 10,000 workers and 18,000 retirees, and Snyder called the amount of money Detroit spends on health care and pensions “unsustainable.”

For retirees like Trozak, city-funded health care may become a thing of the past.

“How can we make sure there are alternative health care programs?” Snyder said. “There is basically zero funding that has been set aside for the health care liabilities in the city of Detroit.”

Rosalind Childs called 911 last year after her teenage son came home to find their home had been burglarized. The thieves took off with a laptop computer, money and a designer handbag.

“I got home four hours later and he was sitting there with a butcher’s knife in my house waiting for the police to come,” Childs said of her son.

After two more calls, the 51-year-old Childs was told she would be better off making a report at the closest precinct.

Childs is doubtful bankruptcy will change anything.

“We already are getting poor city services. Last week, they didn’t even pick up our trash,” she said. “I don’t think bankruptcy is really going to make a difference. You can’t put a band aid on a gunshot wound.”

___

Associated Press reporters David Eggert, Jeff Karoub, Mike Householder and Tom Krisher contributed to this report.


 
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In Detroit, nervous residents wonder if bankruptcy will mean less crime, higher home values

  1. That’s what 60 years of progressive rule does for you

    • That’s a rather cryptic, broad-based comment. Care to elaborate?

  2. Actually … that’s what ‘globalization’ does for everyone… hoorahhh. Detroit is just one of many many many US cities in the exact same boat, thank god for capitalism … and god bless amarika!

  3. Detroit was based on manufacturing, specifically the automotive industry. GM, Chrysler and Ford have been helped, but they haven’t changed their method of operation…..so they won’t last. The bail-out has just postponed things.

    The Industrial Age is long over.

    • First, Ford wasn’t bailed out. It restructured on its own, with its own (well, at least partially borrowed) money. Second, GM and Chrysler (with its new owners) are making significant changes. Will it be enough? We’ll have to wait & see. But in any event whatever they do will not restore Detroit; they moved the bulk of their manufacturing elsewhere long ago.

      Re your Industrial Age comment: While manufacturing has long since ceased to be the backbone of the NA economy, somebody still has to make the stuff we consume. Unless civilization collapses, there will always be an industrial, manufacturing component.

      • First, Ford got a wad of money before the headlines hit Secondly GM and Chrysler haven’t done anything but rearrange the deck chairs on the Titanic.

        I hope you realize that you are only discussing a small area….the suburbs are fine….booming in fact. But then that’s high tech, not car plants.

        Finally….check the country of origin on what you buy. It’s coming from China……and recently other countries. There is all of Africa to go, and the robots are already here.

        Then there is 3D.

        The Industrial Age is over.

        • Source your claim that Ford received bailout money. I’m fairly versed on
          this issue (a bit of a car nut, with a particular interest in Fords
          because of past family ties to a dealership) and have seen nothing that
          backs your assertion.

          Re GM: somewhat inclined to agree, though
          their investments in China have helped them a lot.

          Marchionne turned
          Fiat around and has already made significant headway in doing the same
          for Chrysler, focussing on improving existing products while new ones
          are in development. The first all-new product (Dodge Dart) hasn’t wowed
          me but it is a major improvement over the Caliber nonetheless. So I’m
          not writing them off yet.

          As for the article under discussion: In
          case you didn’t notice, I was agreeing with you that Detroit is
          unlikely to ever be able to count on the automotive sector to help it
          rebound.

          And finally, yes I know that most manufactured goods
          come from elsewhere these days (see my comment “manufacturing has long
          since ceased to be the backbone of the NA economy”) and I am well aware
          that even those vehicles manufactured in North America source many of
          their parts from all over. But as I said, somebody
          has to make them. Robots aren’t self-sustaining (yet); even the most
          highly automated factories have some humans.

          The Industrial Age
          in the classic sense is long over, but our society
          will still need manufactured goods (and 3D printing is, strictly
          speaking, a form of manufacturing). Someone in your purported field ought not to spout nonsensical platitudes.

  4. If Detroit is so bad off for money
    How do they keep all there sports teams playing?????
    Here’s a thought. The players make a ton of money. Why don’t they donate a couple million of their money so they’ll have a place to play.
    But that’t never happen. They’re to greedy to give up a penny.

    • Are you donating any money? Why do you expect others to?

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