Opinion: Detroit must keep growing middle class

Scott Benson
A number of people hangout on the porch in front of an apartment in the 9200 block of Evergreen on Detroit's westside Friday afternoon, September 14, 2018, where earlier in the day a 46-year-old man was shot and killed by police during the execution of a search warrant in connection with the death of a 5-year-old girl late Thursday, according to Detroit police. Irate family members of the unidentified man said at the scene he had nothing to do with the girl's death and say police were doing a search of the home at 4:50 a.m. in a scene that jolted the neighborhood.

Jose Young is experiencing a growing problem in Detroit, but it’s a good problem to have.

When city officials announced that a new automotive manufacturing plant would bring 500 jobs to Detroit’s east side, Young — a Generation Z GED recipient — was one of the first to get a job. His new position also included a 40 percent pay increase and a robust benefit package.

With his newfound prosperity, Young immediately looked to improve his quality of life — by moving out of the city of Detroit. Right away, I started digging in my Detroit toolbox to help Young find an affordable housing solution suitable for a new member of Detroit’s middle class. The tool that I found is the Neighborhood Enterprise Zones Homestead program, which was established by former Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick in the early 2000s. It was intended as a tool to keep our middle-class families in Detroit who were fleeing the city for the suburbs.

Authorized by the state, the NEZH allows cities to reduce their general operating and county tax rates by 50 percent, resulting in a reduction in the overall property tax bill of between 25 percent and 40 percent. This does not reduce the tax capture of any other taxing entities (i.e. Detroit Public Schools Community District, library, museum, zoo), but it does incentivize and reward people who purchase or have purchased homes after 1996 in select neighborhoods that meet the NEZH criteria and have been designated by the city.

City leaders are considering a plan to refresh the program by looking at all of the existing NEZH neighborhoods to see if some need to be removed from the program because they have achieved their goals or no longer meet the program’s guidelines. After the city’s review, new neighborhoods could be added to the list.

This will be a challenging process, because residents who have grown accustomed to the housing incentive will worry that losing it will make their neighborhoods attractive to middle-class homebuyers. Residents in other neighborhoods will likely demand that they be added as an NEZH area even if they don’t meet the program guidelines.

While there will likely be changes to the program, existing NEZH residents should apply for the incentive by going to the Detroit Assessor’s office and submitting the required paperwork, which will make them eligible to receive the incentive for 15 years, even if their existing neighborhood loses its NEZH designation in the future.

This program helps bring housing and economic stability to Young and many other young Detroiters like him and the city of Detroit.

Scott Benson represents District 3 on the Detroit City Council.