The city council recently moved to a district system, have you noticed a change in the attention that has been given to the neighborhoods as a result? Are you optimistic about the current city government?
Honestly, for me personally, the city leadership is pretty irrelevant. I don’t see them affecting me and my neighborhood on a day to day basis. They privatized the garbage pick up. We had good garbage pick up so it’s not like there is a huge difference there. I objected to the privatization, so I did feel it in that regard. We have a very good relationship with our local precinct in terms of neighborhood security issues. I feel that part of government has been very responsive to our neighborhood. I think the issues that challenge our neighborhood are safety, security, and foreclosure issues. Most of the issues are income issues and job issues and market issues that I believe have to be addressed on a federal level. I don’t think the city has the resources to solve the problems that are in Detroit by itself.
Are there things you’d like to see the city government do?
I’d like to see all the people who are in positions of leadership in the city use their offices as a bully-pulpit to advocate for the things that really need to be done that we don’t have the resources for. I appreciate the need to do the things we can do. I think there needs to be more discussion about what needs to happen in the city and in cities across the country. The housing policies favor the suburban developments. It’s too cheap to build in green fields outside of the city and that shouldn’t be. It should be incentives to build in the city. We should deal with insurance disparities. I think the responsibility of city government isn’t to paint a pretty picture about what’s going on. Detroit is what Detroit is. There are some wonderful, interesting things here and part of the reason I stay here and why I love it but that doesn’t mean we don’t have to address the issues that challenge us and I would be a lot more comfortable if we were talking frankly about these things.
You mention the challenges that face the city and incentives to get people to live here. My husband and I would love to live in the city but it’s so expensive with property taxes, insurance costs and income taxes. What keeps you in the city considering it probably costs you more to live here?
I like my house. I love my neighborhood. I love my neighbors. I like that we’re close to Marygrove. My husband works there. There are a lot of programs there we participate in. My daughter has terrific dance class and there is a wonderful community around that program. I’m in a singing ensemble and there is top notch instruction for voice and music. They do concerts regularly that are inexpensive or free. There are a lot of continuing education programs there. I can walk to the University of Detroit Mercy. I can go to Titan games. We have friends who have kids who play soccer at the campus. We couldn’t afford the kind of house we have if we lived in the suburbs. Even with the cost of the housing and the cost of the insurance and heating and other costs it still works out for us that we can do it. We chose to do it. I pay extra to send my daughter to school, I pay extra for security, I pay extra for insurance, I pay a lot for my taxes but we made a decision that that was where we wanted to be and we can do it. It makes sense. We live where we live.
What advice do you have for prospective Detroit buyers?
Depending on the neighborhood you’re looking at the area is really hot and really tight. You have to have everything in place and expect to pay more than you would have a couple years ago. Over the summer prices have really jumped. In the region prices are almost back to 2005 levels and we’re not quite there in the city but in some areas we’re close. The market has really tightened up. You see multiple offers for houses that are in good condition. The challenge that we’re having is that the market is not quite there to support renovation and homes that are not in tip-top condition. People have to look at things like is this where you want to live? It’s an investment in the sense that it’s where you’re going to live. It’s not an investment that the appreciation is going to happen so quickly that you can turn it and flip it. But if you want a really nice place to live and you want a great neighborhood and you want a beautiful home and you’re planning to stay here for a long time, putting on a roof in the University District is going to cost you the same as putting on a roof in some other neighborhood of the same scale. I figure that the people who are investors here are the people that want to live here. The more we can do to convince people that it’s a great place to live I think that’s how we create the market.
Speaking of investment, I’m reminded of the announcement by Chase that it will help with the lending situation. Have you noticed any improvement in people getting mortgages or home repair loans?
The difficulty is still the homes that are not in perfect condition because the standards have gotten tight on lending on conventional loans and especially FHA loans in terms of condition. And we’ve suffered from the crash. Even in the most stable neighborhoods there are homes that are suffering from deferred maintenance and neglect. If you want to buy the house and live there and make the repairs and improvements you’ll have a great place to live, but it’s not like you’re going to make those repairs and get all your money back. That’s not going to happen right away unless you’re extremely lucky. But there are cash buyers in the city now, people seeing value ahead of the lenders and appraisers.
What would you like to see happen in Detroit in the next 5 years? Is there something you are waiting for?
The mayor promised to straighten out the assessments on residential homes and I hope they do that because it’s not right to have the assessments as inconsistent as they are. People are shocked by the tax rate and what they get in return. But that’s another function of Detroit being forced to solve its own problems and with the level of poverty we’re seeing that’s not realistic. Detroit can’t solve its problems by itself. We need federal policies and federal help to distribute the weight of the recovery. I would like to see something done about the insurance redlining, it really is a pet peeve of mine that I take care of my home but I’m paying insurance that is three or four times what my mother pays in Birmingham. My car insurance is out of sight. I keep my car in my garage. I keep it locked. I’d like to see us all do something about poverty – that’s where the focus needs to be. On the people, on the children.
In addition to touring the University District, I recently met up with Kim Stroud to discuss life in Detroit. Kim lives in the neighborhood, works at a housing non-profit in Detroit and as a realtor. She moved to Detroit with her family when she was ten and has been in the city ever since. She moved to the University District in 1999 and lives there with her husband and daughter. As a person who would love to live in Detroit but has serious doubts about our ability to afford it, I was eager to get an insider’s perspective. Kim was very open with her feelings about the city and forthright in bringing up her concerns and proposing solutions.