By STEVE NEAVLING
FREE PRESS STAFF WRITER
They are some of the poorest, most abandoned neighborhoods in the country.
In northeast and northwest Detroit, for example, the median household income of many neighborhoods is $20,000, compared with $29,000 citywide and $49,777 in the U.S., according to 2009 census estimates.
Those who want to leave can’t — not in a market with nose-diving housing values and few buyers.
“You couldn’t get anything for these houses,” said Eddie Holmes, 55, who lives in a block dominated by vacancies on the city’s far west side.
For sale signs languish on the front lawns of houses selling for less than $20,000.
With little hope for a revival, these areas are targets of Mayor Dave Bing’s ambitious plan to begin enticing residents as early as next year to move out of blighted sections and into relatively thriving ones.
“The scope of abandonment and shrinkage is astounding,” said John O’Brien, executive director of Northwest Detroit Neighborhood Development Corp. “Many of these houses have virtually no value.”
Year by year, the vibrant neighborhood that Frederick Weems remembers as a wide-eyed boy in the 1980s is morphing into a wasteland and haven for criminals.
Drug dealers, stray dogs and crack-addicted vagrants roam freely through the 14 vacant houses on his block on Burgess on Detroit’s far west side. Only he and three other families are left on a litter-strewn street in one of the city’s most sparsely populated neighborhoods — Brightmoor, or Blightmoor, as some Detroiters call it.
“Back in the day, the neighborhood was thriving,” said Weems, 34, who mows grass, fixes cars and shovels snow for a living. “There ain’t no more kids around, jump-roping and playing like they used to. Now it’s all drug dealers and vacant houses.”
Hardest hit by a half century of poverty, violence and racial tension, areas like Brightmoor are scattered across the city. Sparsely populated and extremely poor, the areas are what’s left when residents move out of the city, or to better Detroit neighborhoods. They become magnets for criminals and an increasing drain on already scarce city resources.
With little hope for survival, areas like these are the centerpiece of Mayor Dave Bing’s ambitious plan to begin encouraging residents as early as next year to move out of blighted spots and into about nine areas where better schools, houses, police services, churches and nonprofits will be concentrated.
“The Detroit Works Project is about creating neighborhoods with a high quality of life, which every resident deserves,” Bing said. “We are confident that Detroiters will embrace the opportunity to live, work and play in areas that are clean, safe and well-populated.”
The administration is planning more community forums on the project throughout 2011.
The city’s most isolated areas are also some of its poorest, blemished by abandoned churches, schools, stores, factories and houses streaked with graffiti.
In some of the areas, emaciated dogs and matted cats roam crumbling streets. Vacant lots are strewn with rotting garbage, toys, rusted cars, ragged sofas and broken TVs.
In northeast Detroit, many blocks are overtaken by prairie grass and charred, collapsing homes.
Even if some of the remaining residents wanted to leave, it would be difficult to do so.
In some of the neighborhoods on the east side, especially near the Coleman A. Young International Airport, the median household income is $20,000, compared with $29,000 citywide and $49,777 in the U.S., according to 2009 census estimates.
And homes that once commanded $90,000 or more now sit like misfit toys, some priced at less than $20,000.
On a snow-swept street near Schoenherr and 7 Mile, Larry Wilson’s pristine house with a waving American flag is surrounded by more than a dozen vacant houses and empty lots.
“This was a beautiful street,” the 49-year-old health care worker said fondly, recalling the late 1980s when he and his wife raised their four children there. “Look at it now. Unbelievable.”
Wilson said he’s waiting to see what kind of incentives Bing plans to offer residents to move to better neighborhoods.
“It wouldn’t take a lot for me to move,” he admitted. “No one should live this way.”
Bing said the incentives are unclear until funding is found, but he holds hope that the biggest motivator is the prospect of living in a more desirable neighborhood with better services.
Back in Brightmoor, on one of the city’s most vacant streets, 55-year-old Eddie Holmes feels imprisoned. She recently chased burglars from her front door on Rochelle. After a drive-by shooting at a drug house next door cleared everyone out two years ago, a drug addict moved in.
She’s eager to move and hopes Bing’s plan is her way out.
“Almost everyone is gone out here,” she said. “We feel abandoned and forgotten.”
Contact STEVE NEAVLING: 313-223-3327 or [email protected]
From the Detroit Free Press: http://www.freep.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20101223/NEWS01/12230416/1001/news&template=fullarticle
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