South Warren: The ‘forgotten’ neighborhoods

Nicquel Terry
The Detroit News

Warren — Eleven years ago, Shaquita Roach believed moving from Detroit to south Warren would bring a higher quality of life, with safer neighborhoods and better housing.

Nancy McMurray, left, of Warren and Donna McMartin of Eastpointe bag donated bread at a south Warren pantry.

She moved in with a friend and later decided to rent her own apartment.

Today, the single mother of three says she is nearly at her wits’ end with the deteriorating neighborhood. She’s lived in one apartment and two houses with her children, suffered everything from mold to bed bugs and recently learned her rental home was foreclosed and its water was shut off. She paid to have the water restored but is looking for another place to live.

There’s also more traffic and loiterers, Roach said, and many buildings are now abandoned.

“My overall experience has been completely terrible,” said Roach, 30, a waitress at Warren Kabob restaurant on Van Dyke. “It’s like the area is going down.”

Some residents and merchants along Van Dyke — a busy corridor that runs through south Warren — say they feel the city has neglected their community.

Crime, poverty, unkempt rental homes and vacant or aging storefronts dot south Warren, while the northern section of the city thrives with cleaner neighborhoods, big box retailers and companies such as General Motors investing millions of dollars in new developments.

Warren Mayor Jim Fouts admits the southern neighborhoods have been “forgotten.” He recently announced plans to build a satellite police station that operates 24 hours a day, a city hall office and a new library near Nine Mile and Van Dyke.

Fouts said the presence of municipal buildings might make the area more attractive and entice people to move to south Warren.

He also believes the plan will encourage other development, such as supermarkets and single-family homes that are owned and not rented.

Fouts said he wants to push slumlords out of the city and welcome families who are looking to buy homes and live there long term.

“I hope this will give a boost to that particular part of the city that’s become older and businesses and people have moved on,” Fouts said. “I want people to feel safe and secure, and I want people to know that there are police stations within walking distance.”

A tale of two cities

North and south Warren are separated by Interstate 696, which splits the city in half. The most distressed neighborhoods are between Nine Mile and Eight Mile — the Detroit border.

Warren is Metro Detroit’s largest suburb and the third-largest city in Michigan. The city’s population in 2014 was 134,398, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. The population of south Warren, which covers ZIP codes 48089 and 48091, was 61,434.

The number of families living in poverty, population of black residents and number of rental homes are significantly higher in south Warren than in the rest of the city.

For example, in southeast Warren, 22.8 percent of families live below the poverty level — $30,380 for a family of four — compared with 8.2 percent in the northeast part of the city, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

Also in southeast Warren, 42.3 percent of the homes are occupied by renters, compared with 13.3 percent in northeast Warren.

“(South Warren) has been neglected, that’s for sure,” said Donald Dettmer, 56, a longtime resident. “And the recession did not help at all.”

Fouts, who took office in 2008, said earlier in his term the city lacked the money to address the issues in south Warren.

The economic downturn left Warren cash-strapped until recent years, when it ramped up blight sweeps, demolition and police patrols.

“I would hope (residents) would recognize what we are doing now and what we have been doing,” Fouts said.

City Councilman Cecil St. Pierre said he proposed a pilot program in 2014 that would have allowed a developer to build 40 rent-to-own homes in south Warren.

However, the council voted the plan down, he said.

St. Pierre insists that he has not been ignoring the neighborhood.

“How can you hurt anything with new housing?” St. Pierre said. “This is what brings people to fix up their homes.”

Keeping an eye out

South Warren’s plight drove many residents and businesses out of the area in the past few decades.

At the southern end of Van Dyke, old office buildings are vacant, storefronts are boarded up and a Tim Hortons that closed still sits at the corner of Ford Avenue.

Melodee Wieske, owner Good n’ Plenty Resale Shop on the 2200 block of Van Dyke, said she’s been in business for 30 years in south Warren.

Wieske said she would move her shop to a different town if so many residents didn’t depend on her services.

The crime, she said, has gotten worse. Police are constantly in her neighborhood making arrests and someone broke into the shop’s garage last summer and stole jewels and other goods.

The city has also failed to maintain the lot it owns next to her store and left a giant pile of dirt on the curb for more than one year, Wieske said.

“The north end (of Warren) gets taken care of,” Wieske said. “But we get very little help down here.”

Fouts said the leading crimes in south Warren are home break-ins and drugs.

Phill Dutko, 54, a south Warren resident and employee at Good n’ Plenty, said he witnessed a man breaking into the house across the street in broad daylight.

The neighborhood could benefit from having a police station because the presence might deter crime, he said.

“It’s scary but you just gotta watch your back,” Dutko said. “You gotta keep a good eye on everything.”

A community in need

The southern neighborhoods are home to a large transient population, many of whom move there from northern Detroit.

It is estimated the median household income in south Warren is $34,000. In north Warren it is no less than $47,000, according to the Census Bureau.

Residents face a long list of socioeconomic challenges, including hunger, low literacy, child abuse and neglect, youth homelessness and unemployment, said the Rev. Michael John, a director at the Urban Benedictine Ecumenical Community.

John helps hundreds of south Warren residents get access to food, emergency hygiene products, housing and transportation. He also helps families apply for financial assistance from the state Department of Health and Human Services.

John said south Warren could benefit from a literacy program, free laundry services and a community garden.

“Our families are trying to survive,” John said. “It’s not enough to tell people to get a job. They need to get food in the house, get shelter and coordinate child care.”

John’s office is in Mount Calvary Lutheran Church, which also houses a food pantry and Head Start program for low-income children.

Mary Potts, coordinator of the Mount Calvary Family and Community Center, said the food pantry serves about 50 families each month. Another 150 families benefit from bread and produce donations at the center.

Potts and John agree that one of the biggest challenges in south Warren is getting resources and volunteers.

Some residents in northern Warren are reluctant to pass the I-696 dividing line to south Warren, Potts said.

“I don’t think it’s the city that forgets south Warren, I think it’s the population,” John said.

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Twitter: @NicquelTerry