Blog: Kurt Metzger

A celebrity demographer if there ever was one, Kurt Metzger, director of the Detroit Area Community Indicators System, is the go-to-guru for the latest trends in population flow. This week, Kurt holds forth on the importance of immigration to the region's vitality, right-sizing the city, and neighborhoods of opportunity.

Post 2: Collaboration and Rapid Response Are Possible in Detroit

The City of Detroit and the Detroit region have been set back on their heels by the recession that has been in place since 2001.  Business closings, unemployment, poverty and service needs, and out-migration have been increasing throughout the decade.  These problems were exacerbated when the housing bubble burst and the foreclosure crisis took hold.

The State of Michigan and Detroit region were early "leaders" in foreclosure.  While the numbers remain high, and the seriousness of the local problem has not lessened, other areas of the country – particularly Florida, Nevada, Arizona, and California – have moved into the lead of late.

The City of Detroit and the local foundation community were quick to identify foreclosures as an issue that had to be addressed before it consumed the city.  Working in tandem with the
Detroit Economic Growth Association, Social Compact and others, local and national funders came together to create the Detroit Office of Foreclosure Prevention and Response (FPR).  In addition, they funded the creation and beta testing of a unique data/mapping platform, created by Social Compact and Universal Mind, that would incorporate a variety of unique housing finance-related data (as well as a host of other variables) that would allow detailed analysis of foreclosures, market sales and real-estate owned properties.

While I will let them tell their own story through their new website, allow me to say that staff hit the ground running from the outset and have been working tirelessly to stem the tide of foreclosures, while working with federal agencies and financial institutions to help residents remain in their homes and bring investment dollars into the city.

The Neighborhood Stabilization Program funding from HUD to the City of Detroit has resulted in new collaborations among organizations dedicated to the "rebirth" of Detroit.  The need to look at the current status of Detroit across its 139 square miles – housing (both occupied and vacant), vacant land, ownership, assessment, and more – has brought together the City of Detroit Department of Planning and Development; the
Next Detroit Neighborhood Initiative; DEGA; Community Legal Resources (CLR) and their Vacant Property Campaign; LISC; the Office of Foreclosure; the Michigan State Housing Development Authority (MSHDA), and the Detroit Area Community Information System (D-ACIS) [sorry if I forgot anyone] to plan cooperatively across a broad range of issues.

While a number of articles have been written about the volume of vacant land and vacant buildings in the City (with estimates ranging up to a third of our land), and surveys have been conducted in certain neighborhoods, no current citywide analysis has ever been conducted at the parcel layer.  This gap was identified by the Office of Foreclosure and discussions began with FPR, CLR, and D-ACIS to see what we could do. 

Within a matter of weeks, we had a project design and proposal for Living Cities to conduct a survey of every residential parcel (approximately 350,000) in the City of Detroit, and complete it within a 2-month period.  Enlisting the University of Michigan, through its
Ginsberg Center and Urban and Regional Planning Program, we were able to recruit and train 40 surveyors – both students from several disciplines and Detroit residents – who would drive the streets of Detroit in 3-person teams to record the data.  D-ACIS produced over 550 parcel maps and accompanying survey data entry sheets for the teams.  We launched the effort in late August and anticipate data collection completed by late September, with data entry completed soon thereafter.

Plans call for release of the data to our host of partners sometime in late October, with at least six community meetings being held in October and November.  We want the information to be available to all – the true concept of data sharing/democratizing data that informs everything that D-ACIS is about.

Collaboration in Detroit is indeed POSSIBLE.  We are living it every day and we truly believe that we are changing the dynamics of Detroit and the region.  Collaboration – across all areas - is the ONLY WAY that we in the Detroit region will achieve success.