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Friday, January 18, 2013


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I think the housing dilemma you cite is where public-orivate partnerships come in. There's plenty of "affordable" housing for poor people in every city. The problem is that it is often substandard.

Let's assume for the sake of argument that Mrs. Smith's house has no mortgage and is reasonably well-maintained, but that she lives on a fixed income and can't afford a monthly payment. And because of its location, her house is worth far less than a comparable home in a "focus" neighborhood where the city wants people to relocate.

This is where the Federal CDBG, HOME Investment funds, Rental Housing Tax Credits, and partnerships with organizations like Habitat for Humanity are key.

The idea is to build Mrs. Smith and those like her new homes, with capital subsidy to make them affordable. Some subsidy may also need to be used by the municipality to pay Mrs. Smith enough so she can move to another home she owns free and clear, and some by the developer to make the new home price out at whatever Mrs. Smith received from selling the old one. To avoid scams and speculation, it would be typcial for the city or CDC to take a "soft second" mortgage for a period so that Mrs. Smith doesn't sell the house immediately.

Similar mechanisms exist for rentals.

This is what community development departments and community development corporations do in big cities. The issue, of course, is getting enough resources concentrated on a neighborhood at a time. This would be a long-term program.

Perhaps Congress or the Michigan Legislature, or both, would try some kind of special "decommissioning tax credit" in Detroit to hasten the process.

A few drug dealers can quickly destabilize a Detroit neighborhood. Once you start hearing gunshots in the day, anyone with the means moves out. Next thing you know, you have a couple vacant homes, which invites squatters and often beings a long, inexorable decline.

That's why I'm not so sure that recreating high density in certain areas of Detroit will work. In fact, I believe lower densities are what are allowing certain areas of Detroit work right now - the problems have become more manageable. For example, as the infamous Cass Corridor near Midtown hallowed out (once an extremely seedy area), only then could it be adequately policed and revitalized.

If you look at Metro Detroit, you'll see that the people have extreme difficulties with supporting any kind of density. People are too provincial and the extreme oversupply single-family homes makes it easy to move. Mixed income doesn't work when it brings in drug dealers.

High density can only work in Metro Detroit IF it's done in an extremely monocultural way. That's why the poor are getting the shaft and probably will continue to get the shaft.

US cities were not always so dense. People should not be forced to give up their homes. Special care should be taken with neighborhoods like Delray that have been victimized repeatedly. Detroit has some rich people, and they should contribute. Small farms can co-exist with present residents. Instead of major universities gobbling up neighborhoods in other cites, maybe one can relocate to the vacant land in Detroit.

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