Detroit’s Outlook Falls Along With Home Prices

Tim Jones, Chicago Tribune, January 29, 2009

It may be tough to get financing for a new car these days, but in Detroit you can buy a house with a credit card.

The median price of a home sold in Detroit in December was $7,500, according to Realcomp, a listing service.

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Among the many dispiriting numbers that bleakly depict the decrepitude of this onetime industrial behemoth, the steep slide of housing values helps define the daunting challenge to anyone who wants to lead this shrinking, poverty-pocked city of about 800,000 people.

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Despite the depth of the hole, Evans [Warren Evans, sheriff of Wayne County] is running for mayor. In fact, he is one of 15 people who have raised their hands to be mayor of Detroit and fill the remaining months in office of the former mayor who now wears a green jumpsuit and resides in Evans’ spartan house of justice, the Wayne County Jail.

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New York bond-rating houses this month lowered the city’s bond rating to junk status, a lowly assessment shared by New Orleans and few others.

On a positive note, Detroit’s homicide rate dropped 14 percent last year. That prompted mayoral candidate Stanley Christmas to tell the Detroit News recently, “I don’t mean to be sarcastic, but there just isn’t anyone left to kill.”

Detroit voters will choose two candidates in a Feb. 24 primary who will face off in May. In the meantime, the city faces a projected budget deficit of at least $300 million, with no clear view on how to erase it. “If we don’t get it right, we could be headed for a state takeover or receivership,” warned Dave Bing, a mayoral candidate best known for draining jump shots for the Detroit Pistons back in the 1960s and ’70s. {snip}

Mayor Ken Cockrel Jr., who assumed the mayor’s office by virtue of his being president of the City Council, promised he is “not going to let [receivership] happen.”

Detroit, which has lost half its population in the past 50 years, is deceptively large, covering 139 square miles. Manhattan, San Francisco and Boston could, as a group, fit inside the city’s boundaries. There is no major grocery chain in the city, and only two movie theaters. Much of the neighborhood economy revolves around rib joints, hot dog stands and liquor stores. The candidates travel around this sprawling city, some invoking the nostalgic era of Big Three dominance and vowing that Detroit can be great again.

Kilpatrick’s election in 2001 lured Henry Hassan back to Detroit from Minnesota. Hassan, who opened a restaurant on the city’s northwest side, said he was quickly disillusioned.

“You remember the riots in ’67?” Hassan said, referring to the cataclysmic five days that left 43 dead and more than 2,000 buildings burned down. “It’s a little worse than that right now. . . . We need somebody to come in and care for the city more than they care for themselves.”

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“A thousand people are leaving the city every month,” Mogk [John Mogk, a professor at Wayne State University Law School.] said, “and the city does not have the financial resources and the economic base to solve its own problems.”

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To the surprise of many in this overwhelmingly black city (82 percent), only 53 percent of registered voters turned out for November’s presidential election, which featured the first African-American nominee. It wasn’t long ago that a Democrat couldn’t carry Michigan without a big turnout in Detroit. As it turned out, Detroit’s votes didn’t matter in the election.

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