Redevelopment of neighborhoods starts with housing

Viable neighborhoods find creative ways to maintain a strong housing inventory. The housing stock is the foundation of the neighborhood.

The development and redevelopment of housing is the foundation for sustainable communities. Unfortunately, the losses in population for the city of Detroit are an obvious example of the effects of lost population and declining neighborhoods. This pattern is most obvious for large tracts of land on the eastside of the city. The city’s 1950 population was approximately 1.8 million people; it now has a population of 713,777 residents, more than one-half of the residents have moved out of the city since 1950. Detroit’s residential vacancy rate was approximately 22.8 percent in 2010. A windshield survey by the Southeast Michigan Council of Governments will reveal whole blocks of vacant and/or abandoned housing. The loss of whole neighborhoods in the city is a very serious indicator of a community in distress.

Housing provides a variety of benefits contributing to neighborhood and community vitality. First and foremost housing provides the places for families – ones with children, ones without, senior households with no children, owner occupied, rental, special needs housing, adult foster care housing, etc. The neighborhoods are the incubators for families and these neighborhoods are made up of a mix of housing types, styles, colors, levels and sizes.

Secondly, housing provides a source of taxable income for municipalities through property taxes. The decline in property values in the state is one of the leading causes of fiscal distress for many of Michigan’s municipalities. And thirdly, many types of commercial development are based on median household and disposable incomes for a community. In other words, strong, financially viable neighborhoods with high levels of disposable income have the ability to attract certain kinds of commercial development.

So, when neighborhoods thrive, communities grow and prosper. On the other hand, when neighborhoods decline and large tracts of housing are abandoned, demolished and neglected; residents with the financial ability move to other viable neighborhoods or move out of the city all together, thus exasperating the decline. Some may argue that employment is the foundation of neighborhoods. While employment is critical to sustainable neighborhoods, the ability of residents to commute to employment can reduce some of the need for local jobs to be located in close proximity to their respective residence. The 2010 Census showed that less than one-half of the working residents in the city live in the city.

Planners should make every effort to use federal, state and local funds to preserve and maintain viable neighborhoods through stabilizing the housing stock in those neighborhoods. Because of the role housing plays in neighborhood stabilization, incentives such as free housing should be used as a last resort to encourage and increase occupation rates in the city’s most distressed neighborhoods. The housing stock is the foundation of a neighborhood. Its benefits for a community are both social and financial and the very notion of sustainable communities is grounded in the ability of an area to maintain a viable, occupied, diverse housing for its residents.

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