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One of the most common features of Detroit’s economic recovery is that the appointed public officials who are in the driver's seat are often shielded from public engagement and community scrutiny.

The city officials, some longtime bureaucrats, are rarely made available to residents at community meetings unless there is some big announcement coming. Others simply accompany Mayor Mike Duggan to his regularly scheduled district meetings where they are allowed to take questions for as long as the mayor is in the room.

But for the recovery to really begin to have some semblance of balance, these officials will need to go in front of Detroiters more frequently to hear directly from them what their needs are. That message was echoed last week at Tabernacle Missionary Baptist Church during a city council neighborhood meeting regarding Detroit’s 2019 budget.

The March 27 meeting represented yet another trial on the recovery, where many residents lined up to speak out forcefully about the glaring inequities that still define life for them in the city as well as what they view as the priorities for Detroit’s government.

The cries for help could be heard all over the room as some explain their individual encounters with the city’s bureaucracy when seeking help.

From complaints about Detroit’s public transportation system to demands for increase in funding for affordable housing, the pleas kept coming.

At one point, one resident said he believed that if for example Dan Gilbert, the billionaire investor and chairman of Quicken Loans, was seeking help from council, the legislative body would move swiftly to address his needs than their issues.

The Gilbert analogy conveyed through the public testimonies at the meeting represented the sharp contrast in perspectives between the priorities placed in downtown, and that of the neighborhoods.

It wasn’t so much of a gibe at Gilbert personally, but given his large swaths of real estate, he represents downtown investment and recovery.

The public meeting underscores why Detroit’s new housing commission chief Sandra B. Henriquez should conduct a series of community meetings to speak to residents who have issues with how the city is implementing its affordable housing vision.

Henriquez, who worked for former president Barack Obama as assistant secretary in the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, has signaled she wants to go on a “three months information gathering.”

As she prepares to start her duties on April 22, her community tour should not be a public relations campaign but rather an all-inclusive truth-telling session to hear from all perspectives of the affordable housing debate. The city should not draw boundaries regarding who she should hear from.

She needs to make it a point to hear from critics of the city’s affordable housing plan to understand where they are coming from, and why Detroit must work to address deficiencies in housing for low income residents.

In light of the fact that Detroit has become a majority-renters city, her assignment is going to be one of the most closely monitored in this recovery.

A 2017 Urban Institute report underscores the urgency of the city’s housing crisis and the challenges of income inequality.

 “Detroit’s housing supply lost more than 45,000 units between 1990 and 2013, with the number of occupied units in Detroit decreasing 46 percent between 1970 and 2010. These losses stem from several factors, including low home values, low rents, and high property taxes. Most houses in Detroit are single-family units built before 1960, and the mean sale price of housing units in Detroit is well below the national average,” the report stated.

The report further noted, “Home purchase loan originations fell from 8,400 in 2005 to 490 in 2014. Consequently, cash sales percentages reached historic levels in 2014 at 97 percent. Home improvement loan originations also fell from 3,475 in 2001 to 21 in 2014. This trend is the result of distorted property appraisals from a lack of comparable properties and a high amount of distressed sales, Detroit residents having an average credit score of 585 compared with 670 nationally, 66 percent of Detroit residents having debt in collections, and additional factors that affect residents’ access to credit.”

bankole@bankolethompson.com

Twitter: @BankoleDetNews

Catch “Redline with Bankole Thompson,” which is broadcast at noon weekdays on Superstation 910AM.

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