Barbara Jean Jones has lived in her home for more than 50 years. She bought her home with her late husband James and together they raised four children. She lived in her home when she lost her husband and when she lost her son, a police officer, to an untimely death.
Her house is filled with memories and love and remains a sanctuary to her grandchildren and extended family. She has paid taxes on her home for 50 years and, when her husband was alive, they paid residential city income taxes. The lots on either side of her home are vacant and, at 80 years old, she keeps these lots tended. She is an active member of the community and once served as block club leader.
Barbara Jean lived the American Dream. She did everything according to the rules through good times and bad but, lately, times are more often bad than good.
Most of the homes around her are now vacant, some open and stripped. One house has been vacant for so long a tree has grown through its foundation. There is a broken water main in front of her house and the streets are frequently flooded. Her sidewalks are broken and cracked and a tree from a neighboring property is now leaning on her home.
DOWNTOWN DOLLARS ABOUND
Meanwhile, Detroit’s greater downtown has been hit with a boom heard around the world, capped off last week by an announcement that the Detroit Pistons were moving back into the city into a brand new stadium co-located with a brand spanking new Hockey arena. That arena is almost 60% financed by bonds to be repaid by the Downtown Development Authority, which uses a complicated tax scheme to divert funds earmarked for public schools to pay down the bonds.
These new stadium deals are footsteps away from football and baseball stadiums also built in the past 10 years and also paid for with taxpayer financing.
Now that the downtown economy has been stimulated, why don’t we consider asking the people who benefit from this stimulus to contribute to neighborhood growth so that we all rise together?
Detroit is also installing the Q-line, which will travel 3.3-miles along Woodward Ave. from Hart Plaza to New Center. The perpetual loop will link riders from jobs to the many amenities that line Woodward Avenue such as stadiums, restaurants, bars, the Detroit Institute of Arts and Wayne State University.
No one is happier than me awaiting these new developments. I’m a black female, 53-year-old, wanna-be hipster who loves good wine, craft cocktails, and nouveau cuisine with names I can’t pronounce. Campus Martius is amazing. It’s beautiful and fun and sometimes I cannot believe I’m in Detroit.
This past summer, I joined thousands of multi-racial, multi-generational Detroiters listening to a FREE Parliament Funkadelics concert, and the Jazz Fest on Labor Day was unforgettable. I cannot wait for my first ride on the Q-Line, my first Detroit public transportation ride in more than 30 years, not including the two times I rode the People Mover.
NEIGHBORHOOD DOLLARS SEEM NON-EXISTENT
But on my way home, I will pass Barbara Jean’s street and drive by many similar streets occupied by many similar people I know and care about. They are the Detroiters who don’t make the news. They are the hardworking, God-fearing public servants who have stayed and made a way out of no way. And they do not live downtown.
Later, I will pass my job at a nonprofit working to revitalize Detroit’s lower eastside and I will reflect on the paucity of resources and the lazy efforts to redistribute the spoils of recent investments.
Stadiums are financed by complicated, convoluted tax schemes that swap responsibility from the city to the state at blinding speed. Meanwhile, neighborhood redevelopment is solely dependent on government largesse, largely from HUD, and the few remaining dollars available following our recent emergence from bankruptcy.
I’m not anti-development, but has it occurred to our leaders that Detroit property owners and residents paying city income taxes are subsidizing downtown and Midtown development?
Has it occurred to folks that tax abatements are subsidies, bonds are subsidies and that means Detroit is subsidizing a stadium?
Has it occurred to anyone that police presence downtown reduces access to policing in neighborhoods?
And how about the Q-line? It will be wonderful in the greater downtown but does absolutely nothing to address the need for transportation in our neighborhoods.
I understand the need to stimulate the Detroit economy. Now that the downtown economy has been stimulated, why don’t we consider asking the people who benefit from this stimulus to contribute to neighborhood growth so that we all rise together?
I’m in favor of a downtown/Midtown tax or surcharge on anyone who benefits from the investments residents of Detroit have made in the greater downtown Detroit. If you, like me, are a Detroiter who benefits and enjoys the nightlife then you, like me, should be willing to pay a 2% tax or surcharge on the money you spend downtown.
If you are visiting Detroit and understand the stark conditions in our neighborhoods, why not pay a 2% surcharge on money you spend in greater downtown.
Let me put this in perspective. After a night out on the town in your favorite restaurant, you would pay, perhaps $80.00 for dinner and drinks for two and a whopping $1.60 supporting Detroit’s neighborhoods.
I support a downtown entertainment tax because it helps return some of the dollars residents pay in taxes back into their neighborhoods. These funds could be expended to finance the many projects the city can no longer afford to consistently provide in our neighborhoods such as home repair grants, sidewalk repair/replacement, demolition (in some neighborhoods), dead/dangerous tree removal, rodent control, and local projects to improve the community.
Editor’s Note: Donna L. Givens has more than 30 years’ nonprofit leadership experience. She is the president and CEO of Eastside Community Network. She has also served as president of the Youth Development Commission; CEO of Visions Education Development Consortium, LLC; executive director of Vanguard CDC; vice president programs, Big Brothers Big Sisters of Metropolitan Detroit and in leadership positions at several other nonprofit organizations. She is on the boards of Land Assembly for Neighborhood Development, the Chandler Park Conservancy and the Maheras Gentry Riverfront Park Conservancy.
Lead Photo by Susan Montgomery. All other photos courtesy of Eastside Community Network.
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