In Detroit’s distressed areas, the neighbors left, and now services disappear

In the Davison Freeway and East McNichols area on Detroit’s east side, Rosetta Newby knows the cost of living in a neighborhood marked by abandonment.

Her homeowners insurance is escalating, and no other company will insure her at an affordable rate, she said. Her bank turned her down for a loan for new windows and other improvements to her home of 44 years on Charest.

There’s no grocery store near her, and few streetlights work. All that’s left is a sprinkle of residents, shells of houses and vacant lots framed by crumbling sidewalks. Living on Social Security, and at 75, Newby has few options. “If I had the money, I’d move,” Newby said.

That’s exactly what the city is banking on.

Amid dwindling population and revenue, the city is trying to encourage — or push — people out of rundown neighborhoods that are largely vacant, yet drain the city of its resources. That means many of the services that once were available to residents such as Newby are no longer an option in her neighborhood and others.

One of the biggest changes involves the citywide drawing for the Senior Emergency Home Repair program funded by Community Development Block Grants.

Previously, an average of 5,000 people would stand in line for hours at Cobo Center hoping to be one of the 500 or so seniors chosen in a lottery to receive home repair grants of up to $12,000. Now, those living in neighborhoods deemed distressed, like Newby, are not eligible to receive the grants.

Also, under the city’s Minor Home Repair program, a resident at 80% of the average median income could receive up to $25,000 in a grant to address health and safety issues at their home. Now, that program, too, disqualifies residents living in distressed areas.

“The value of your home may be worth $15,000,” said Karla Henderson, group executive for Planning and Facilities for the city. “Why should we put $25,000 into the home?”

However, in stable neighborhoods such as Sherwood Forest, a person who meets the eligibility requirements of 80% of the average median income may now receive up to $75,000 to fix up their homes.

“It’s not politically friendly for some people, but it’s necessary for the long-term future of the city,” Henderson said. “That’s a significant shift for us. It’s going to affect hundreds of people.”

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