Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Michigan's Dying Cities

Michigan’s Cities have been slowly dying for my entire life. As it happens, I was born in Michigan’s largest city in 1968 – just after the famous riots and right at the beginning of the “white flight” out of the city to the suburbs. The area is now one of the most segregated metropolitan areas in the country. The actual City of Detroit is half in ruins.

One thing I have noticed over the years though is how politics at the state level seem to have done everything possible to hurt established urban areas. Policy after policy passes, carried by the political weight of the very conservative part of the state. (Which for those of you not from Michigan is usually called “Every place other than South East Michigan”). Most of those policies seem to end up hurting the people who live in urban areas.

The most obvious way that state politics has hurt urban areas is the property tax structure. The City of Royal Oak has a very explanation of how that property tax structure hurts cities -- LINK. Cities struggle to provide services because city services have a serious impact on citizen’s quality of life. Just think about what life in a city might be like without someone collecting the garbage. Unfortunately the property tax structure will not allow the cities to raise taxes to provide essential services.

Here is what I know about it though. I know that areas where there is growth are sometimes able to dodge the effects of the property tax structure by building new taxable properties. People move out of established areas which can shrink the tax base even more. It doesn’t help that the people moving out of cities are the people who are most able to afford to move. People who are most able to pay taxes. Those people move out and away from as many social problems as they can.

And while those people are moving out, the State of Michigan pays for infrastructure that allows people to live outside of urban centers (e.g. roads, schools, etc) while at the same time reducing funding for social services that primarily benefit the poor people left in the cities. Projects like public transportation never have a chance here because such projects tend to benefit people in the cities. But every other social welfare program has been cut too.

This happens on a state level but it also happens on a county level. In my own county, funding for a new jail was voted down mostly by people who live out county and don’t have the same levels of crime found in the cities. Then, when the county started bussing inmates to other county jails, they worked to stop that too. The end result was that the jail filled up and when the police in my town would arrest people, they were forced to just let them go. Not surprisingly, crime rates went up. But since the crime rates went up in the City of Ypsilanti, the people who wouldnt pay for the jail didnt seem to mind too much. You see, those people have moved away from such social problems.

That leaves the people in the cities to pay the most taxes. The City of Detroit has one of the highest (if not THE highest) property tax rates in the state. The city where I live, Ypsilanti also has high property taxes. I pay more property taxes on my $100,000 house than people who live in houses that cost five times as much out in the country, especially if they have lived there for a long time. I pay more than double the property taxes than my parents who live in a spacious lake front property in S. Lyon (and yes, they are part of the problem but did stick it out in the City of Detroit for years longer than most people of their economic station).

Unfortunately, I don’t see an end in sight. I imagine that politics in the State of Michigan will still involve richer and mostly white people doing all they can to kick the poor, especially if they are poor people of color. And maybe such politics arent limited to Michigan. But that is where I live. And that is what I see.


E-Speed said...

So frustrating. I think similar things go on on Ohio. At least that seems to be teh case in Cleveland.

Sandy D. said...

Lynne, I thought of this post of yours when I ran across this picture today:

You might like the book "Building Suburbia" by Dolores Hayden. It has a lot of interesting stuff on how suburban sprawl has sucked $ out of the cities.

Sandy D. said...

Hm, here's the photo in case you can't see the string.