Traverse City Record-Eagle

July 20, 2013

Residents worry if bankruptcy will better Detroit

COREY WILLIAMS
Associated Press

---- — DETROIT (AP) — In Detroit, it can take police nearly an hour to respond to a 911 call. Despite razing close to 10,000 vacant houses, three times as many still stand with windows smashed and doors ripped off. At night, many streets and even freeways are dangerously shrouded in darkness because tens of thousands of street lights don’t work.

This is Detroit, an insolvent city seeking to find its way through the uncertainty of the largest city in U.S. history to file for bankruptcy.

For decades, residents have heard one city official after another vow to improve city services but little would be done. On Friday — a day after the city filed the unprecedented bankruptcy — they were given a deadline.

Gov. Rick Snyder and Detroit emergency manager, Kevyn Orr, promised weary residents that they would see better city services in 30 to 60 days.

“Now is our opportunity to stop 60 years of decline,” Snyder said Friday during a press conference just north of downtown.

Though Thursday’s bankruptcy filing had been feared for months, the path ahead for the once mighty Motor City is still uncertain. As Detroit starts the likely lengthy process of shedding its debt, residents, businesses owners and retirees nervously wonder if they’ll see improvements after years of neglect or if another round of promises will go unfulfilled.

Resident Dennis Talbert has waged a battle to improve his northwest side neighborhood of Brightmoor for years, pleading with city officials to raze rows of vacant homes that have been stripped of electrical wiring and plumbing.

So far, none have been torn down.

Mayor Dave Bing continues with his plan to demolish 10,000 empty houses before his term ends in December, and some private companies are jumping in to tear down dangerous buildings. But it’s costly and the city’s inventory is too massive to make a real dent.

“I don’t think the trickle-down theory works in Brightmoor,” Talbert said. “The whole issue of bankruptcy will not impact poor people. Only when organizations start moving our way will those houses be removed.”

In the heyday of its industrial power, Detroit used to boast of having one of the highest owner-occupied housing rates in the country thanks to the then-booming auto industry that offered well-paying jobs and a gateway to the middle class. In the 1950s, 1.8 million people lived here. Now, the population struggles to stay about 700,000. With neighborhoods in neglect, property values have plummeted.

One pocket of promise is in the Woodbridge neighborhood between the city’s rebounding Midtown and downtown areas. The homes on Woodbridge’s tree-lined Avery Street are mostly occupied and well-kept — something that attracted Daniel Mercer to a structurally sound but cosmetically needy two-story Victorian built in 1900.

“I used to come driving up and down the street all the time because I work in the area ... and I happened to see a (for-sale) sign, and it went up that day,” said Mercer, 54, a painter and handyman. “There are a lot of people that have the same love for these old houses that I have ... and the passion to fix them up.”

He bought the home about six weeks ago and plans to move in with his wife on Aug 10. The fact that he’s moving in at the same time the city is filing for bankruptcy isn’t lost on him.

He believes property values will climb even if they take an initial dip because of bankruptcy.

“We’ve got a 10-year plan, to be honest with you,” he said. “There’s a lot of work to do.”

Buried in the hundreds of pages of bankruptcy documents is the name Hercules & Hercules, Inc. For more than two decades, the janitorial supply company has done business with the city, but on occasion, Detroit couldn’t pay and the company allowed it to forego payments. For Belinda Jefferson, president of the family-run firm, the bankruptcy doesn’t change its commitment.