Detroit's population loss slows, but rebound elusive

Christine MacDonald
The Detroit News

Detroit's population loss has slowed to a tenth of its pace the previous decade, but the city has yet to post a rebound, yearly U.S. Census Bureau estimates show.

The newest figures, released Thursday, say Detroit's population was 673,104 as of last summer, a decline of 2,376 residents. The drop is close to the previous year's loss of 2,770.

While Detroit continued to lose ground, many outer suburbs in Southeastern Michigan continued to grow, as did cities such as Grand Rapids and Lansing, which posted among the largest gains. 

Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan expected that the city would start drawing residents by the end of his first term, which was last year. Elected to his second term last November, Duggan has said his performance should be measured by the milestone, but blamed schools for the continued losses. 

“At this point it’s about the schools,” Duggan said. “We have got to create a city where families want to raise their children and have them go to the schools.”

More:Database: Check your community's population change

“There are a whole number of pieces that have gotten better but at the end of the day, I think the ultimate report card is the population going up or going down and our report card isn’t good enough.”

City utility records show at least 3,000 more homes are occupied than last year, Duggan said. But one- and two-person households are moving in and families with children are moving out.

Researchers said the overall trend is a marked improvement for Detroit. The city lost 23,700 per year on average from 2000 to 2010 and has lost nearly 1.2 million residents since its peak in the 1950 Census. 

Despite optimism that Detroit is poised to start reversing decades of decline, the Southeast Michigan Council of Governments forecasts that the city will continue to lose residents until 2025, when it predicts it will bottom out at 631,668. 

Experts are cautious about year-to-year changes and say there are questions about how the census calculates population estimates between the decennial census, when the bureau performs an actual headcount. Census officials take into account new housing permits and demolitions, and those may not be the best measures in Detroit.

"I am also not drawing too much conclusion on some of the smaller changes," said said Xuan Liu, manager of research and data analysis for the Southeast Michigan Council of Governments. "In general, the population estimates become less accurate when we move further away from the last decennial census."

Detroit remains the nation's 23rd largest city, and its loss was lower than several other cities, especially in the nation's Rust Belt: Baltimore lost 5,310 residents, St. Louis 4,518, Chicago 3,825 and Pittsburgh 2,610 in the latest estimates.

"Our decreasing losses should be put up against similar older urban cities, rather than the sprawling, growing cities of the south and west," said Kurt Metzger, a demographer and director emeritus of Data Driven Detroit and mayor of Pleasant Ridge. "I still believe that the population of Detroit may indeed be growing." 

Nationally, eight of the 15 communities with the largest population gains were in the South, with three of the top five in Texas, 

San Antonio, Texas, gained an estimated 24,000 last year, or an average of 66 people per day, according to the census data. 

Last year, Detroit issued 27 permits to build single-family homes in the city, according to the Southeast Michigan Conference of Governments. Another 911 building permits were issued for multi-family structures and 60 permits for condominiums.

Meanwhile 3,197 houses were demolished, according to SEMCOG. 

Duggan said he hopes his bus loop plan approved by the Detroit Public Schools Community District school board on Tuesday can help drive families back to Detroit. Many families send their children to schools in the suburbs and end up moving there, the mayor said.  

The plan, first announced during Duggan's State of the City address, will create a busing system in northwest Detroit that transports children to participating traditional public and charter schools and the Northwest Activities Center.

Abbey Colville moved to Detroit in April 2017 from Sterling Heights. She initially rented an apartment in West Village but recently purchased a home in New Center. 

Colville, 29, said Detroit’s comeback has been “inspiring,” and she enjoys the new development along Woodward and close-knit neighborhoods. 

Abbey Colville moved into New Center neighborhood in Detroit in January.


Detroit, she said, is attracting more young professionals, but she believes the city can do more to retain lifelong residents.

“When it comes to the neighborhoods, what are we doing to reach residents that have been here for decades and generations?” said Colville, who grew up in Harrison and works for a computer solutions company in Northville. “Are we pricing out our residents that have been here their entire life?"

Statewide, Grand Rapids saw the biggest population gain, growing by more than 2,500 to an estimated total of 198,829. Lansing grew by 1,189 residents to 116,986, and Ann Arbor gained 764 to 121,477.

Flint's population, at 96,448, declined in 2017, a drop of 537 in 2017. The city, home to a water crisis that led to elevated lead levels in city water, fell by less than the previous year's drop of 753 residents, according to the estimates.

Metro Detroit's biggest gainers were once again mostly suburban townships where growth has recently been most dramatic: Macomb Township, at 89,479, Canton Township, at 91,791, and Lyon Township at 19,912.

"There's no lessening of the interest in outlying townships," Metzger said. "People are still looking for big houses, big lots with low taxes."

Oxford Township, in northern Oakland County, saw an increase of 620 residents, to 22,418 as of last July, according to census data. 

"We've got quite a bit of building going on," said Bill Dunn, the township's supervisor. "We had a pretty sour time there for three years but in the last couple of years we've seen a big upturn."

Bill Dunn, township supervisor of Oxford Township, walks along the newly constructed Abbey Ridge Apartments in Oxford on Thursday. The city saw a nearly 3 percent increase in residents last year.


Dunn said they want to balance the increase of residents while preserving open spaces and the area's horse farms. 

Biggest gainers

Metro Detroit communities who gained and lost the most population last year, according to estimates released Thursday by the U.S. Census Bureau.             

Macomb Township:  89,479, +1,564

Canton Township:    91,791, +1,072

Lyon Township: 19,912, +804

Commerce Township: 43244, +715

Shelby Township: 79101, +675

Biggest losers

Detroit: 673,104, -2376

Dearborn: 94,491, -328

Livonia: 94,105, -254

Dearborn Heights: 55,758, -207

Westland: 81,747, -160