Once Detroit's deadliest zip code, 48205 sees progress

George Hunter
The Detroit News

Detroit — Jerrod McCord says a recent crime-fighting wave forced him to flee his east side neighborhood.

"We’re moving because of the snitches," said McCord, 28, who loaded a U-Haul truck on a recent Friday with items from his house on the 16000 block of Edmore Drive in the 48205 zip code.

Richard Gray Jr. and others clear branches from an alley during a recent Regent Park Community Association cleanup day, part of citizen participation efforts to drive improvements in the Detroit neighborhood.

"The neighborhood watch around here is getting out of control," McCord said. "You can't do anything on this block. I like to smoke a little weed out in front of the house, and play basketball in the street at night. I'm not bothering anyone, but they keep calling the cops on me, and the cops come and harass me."

Other residents of 48205, a zip code known for its violent past, don't see increased citizen involvement and police presence as a problem, insisting it's an indication the long-maligned area is getting better — and that officers are doing their jobs by enforcing drug and noise ordinances.

"If that's what (McCord) is worried about, that's a key indicator that things are going right around here," said Vaughn Arrington, a longtime activist in the neighborhood. "You do have a lot of active block clubs now. There's been a surge of participation, and we're seeing improvements in many different areas."

For years, people have referred to the zip code as "4820-Die," but residents, police and city officials say that's starting to change.

A 2011 Detroit News analysis found at least 38 people had been shot, and eight killed from the first day of summer, June 21 to Aug. 21 in the 48205 zip code, a 6.5-square-mile area north of Coleman A. Young International Airport roughly bordered by Eight Mile, Hoover, Conner and Kelly. That was the most shootings and homicides of any zip code in the city during those three months.

During that same period this year, there were 12 shootings, five of them fatal, in the 48205 zip code, according to Detroit police data 

Homicides in the zip code fell from 42 for all of 2011 to 21 last year, while robberies dropped from 310 to 171 during that time, according to Detroit police statistics. Aggravated assaults fell from 679 to 628.

Residents and city officials say increased citizen participation, more police patrols, and blight removal have driven the area's improvements.

"This is further proof that a model of neighborhood policing works," Detroit police said in an email. "The winners here are the residents who live in this area. Without their cooperation, we could not achieve these results and improve the lives of the citizens and especially children who live, worked and go to school in this neighborhood.

"We are not waving a flag of success," the email said. "There is still more work to be done and we are working actively to reduce crime through various initiatives."

President of the Regent Park Community Association DeShawn Hurt, center, looks up at trees that need to be cleared out of an alley in the northeast Detroit neighborhood on Sept. 20.  The long-maligned 48205 ZIP code is seeing less crime and more active block clubs in recent years.

Part of the crime-fighting effort in the area involves blight removal. Since 2014, 1,695 abandoned homes in the zip code have been razed, with 130 more slated to be demolished, according to city data.

The city's Land Bank has sold 565 side lots and 467 homes in the zip code during that time, officials said, while the area is dotted with formerly abandoned Land Bank houses bearing "For Sale" signs.

"We are by no means declaring mission completed," said Brian Farkas, director of special projects for the Detroit Building Authority. "But we see the trends going the right way."

Arrington, president of the Pelkey Family Block Club and owner of the Youth Entrepreneurship Center on Seven Mile and Pelkey, said there are still problems in the area, as evidenced by a burglary of his youth center earlier this year.

"They broke in over the winter and wiped us out," he said. "We teach kids how to run a business, and we had a landscaping company called Quarter Cuts. They took all the landscaping equipment — and they took the furnace, the water heater and the electric box, too.

"It shut the program down; it shut the whole building down. But they're not shutting us down for good. We're trying to get up the money to reopen. We will come back, and we'll come back stronger."

Eboney Hurt said she and her husband, DeShawn, have questioned whether they should stay in their Regent Park neighborhood, where they've lived since 2007.

"We've evaluated it probably five times: Are we doing the right thing by staying here?" she said. "Maybe later we'll decide to move but for now, we're going to stay and try to make a difference."

The Hurts recently cleaned up an alley near Regent Park in the heart of the 48205 zip code, aided by workers from Plastic Omnium, a New Boston auto supplier where DeShawn Hurt works as an engineer.

"Since we moved here, there has been so much more community involvement," said DeShawn Hurt, president of the Regent Park Community Association. "And we're seeing the most support from city government than I've ever seen. We're seeing more police around here, and crime has dropped.

"But we want more. We're greedy. There's still a long way to go."

Eboney Hurt said she and her husband didn't give much thought to fixing up their neighborhood before they had a daughter, now 10, and a son who will soon turn 8.

"We never paid much attention to the drug dealer down the street or the abandoned houses, but once we had kids, we started asking what we could do to help out," she said. "We took the blinders off and saw there are people out there selling drugs and abandoned houses all through the neighborhood."

Hurt said she also opened her eyes to the area's potential.

"We're just a skip and a jump from Grosse Pointe and Harper Woods, and the houses around here are similar to those," she said. "The only difference was the sense of community. Now we're starting to see that."

Volunteers from automotive supplier Plastic Omnium and community members of the Regent Park Community Association work together to clear an alley in the northeast Detroit neighborhood on Sept. 20, 2019.

Many blocks in the 48205 zip code are lined with brick homes with manicured lawns, although there is a larger percentage of abandoned houses and overgrown lots toward the southern end of the area. Only a handful of the vacant homes are not boarded up.

Farkas, of the city's Building Authority, said razing the area's abandoned houses is a last resort.

"Demolition is a tool, but we want to use that last," he said. "There are other things that can make a neighborhood more stable. In (48205), there's been a mix of demolitions and home sales, which is what you want."

Eboney Hurt said she sees more families in her neighborhood now than when she first moved there 12 years ago.

"I used to feel like a unicorn when our family would ride down the street on our bikes, because people would stare at us; they just didn't see that much," she said. "But now, we're starting to see other families out there. The neighborhood is opening up."