Friday, June 08, 2007

Eliminating HUD in Detroit Would Reduce Ghetto Lifestyles by Akindele Akinyemi

Detroit is still in trouble. More than three decades of federal programs and hundreds of billions of dollars in spending to stem the decline have had little effect on the pace of deterioration--and may have accelerated it. Detroit has been steadily losing jobs, businesses, and residents since 1950, but the decline worsened after 1970.

Although the reasons for these declines are varied and complex, chief among the things that caused the declines to accelerate beginning in 1970 are a marked deterioration in the quality of urban life and basic city services, measured primarily in terms of crime, schools,and poverty. In 2006, when the nationwide crime rate was at its worst, the 12 major cities that lost population had an average murder rate more than three and a half times higher than the national average and nine times higher than their surrounding suburbs.

Other measures of social dysfunction also are at their extreme in the older, urban environment. In comparison with national averages, Detroit's poverty rate is 82 percent worse, the share of female-headed households is 100 percent higher, the unemployment rate is 35 percent higher, and the infant mortality rate is 68 percent higher than the national average. Student achievement in the Detroit Public Schools is well below that in other schools, and more than 40 percent of the pupils who had entered the ninth grade dropped out of high school before graduation.

As Detroit became less attractive places to live, more and more our residents chose to leave and move to other cities and communities that maintained a higher quality of living. Businesses and jobs quickly followed their customers and workers to the more attractive locales, setting in motion a chain reaction of deterioration that still characterizes Detroit. Those cities outside of Detroit that consistently provided, or re-established, high-quality basic public services and a livable environment are the ones that held onto their populations or reversed earlier declines.

The bigger question is will we bring our ghetto culture and way of life to the surrounding areas to further deteriorate those areas that were built on integrity? Take a look at Southfield. It is considered the carjack capital of Michigan right now. There are ghettoisms in Oak Park and if we even go as far as Clinton Township we see ghetto behavior sprouting up.

Federal, state, and local government programs to remedy urban decay in Detroit have served largely to foster dependency, to concentrate existing and emerging social problems within the central cities, and to favor business and commuters over residents in most revitalization schemes. As a result of these counterproductive policies, cities became increasingly unattractive places to live.

The problem with many of Detroit's urban revitalization policies is that they attempt to recreate urban social and economic arrangements unique to the first half of the 20th century, when the available technologies dictated dense urban environments and a concentration of manufacturing and commerce. Those technological limits have since disappeared, and the compelling necessity of regional economic centers disappeared with it by the middle part of this century. Nonetheless, most city government urban policies attempt to revive this obsolete social and economic construct, increasingly through the expenditure of substantial public funds on questionable infrastructure projects.

Unfortunately for Detroit, this same philosophy of urban development continues today. But the development schemes of the past several decades have confused effect with cause, placing jobs before residents. So instead of focusing on ways to make Detroit more livable, city government policy makers and local boosters have emphasized polices to encourage suburban people to work and spend money in the city and promoted costly infrastructure investments at the expense of such basic public services as law enforcement and quality schools. After five decades and hundreds of billions of dollars in big government spending, the cities that followed this path have neither jobs nor residents and have become increasingly dependent on federal and state governments to keep them afloat.

Detroit's urban revitalization strategies depend almost entirely on local initiative, leadership, and management. Targeted urban initiatives that flow from Washington, D.C., often are counterproductive and offer few opportunities for local leaders to improve on them. Reform of these federal programs--largely operated by the Departments of HUD and Transportation--begins in Washington, D.C., and requires action from Congress and the President.

One thing I would like to point out to eliminate welfare as we know it in Detroit is for us to get HUD Out of Detroit.

At the urging of President Johnson, HUD was established in 1967 to be the federal government's lead agency to address and resolve the urban problems that had begun to emerge by the early 1960s. The most visible and dramatic manifestation of these problems were the violent and destructive urban riots of the early and mid-1960s. Because many believed that inadequate housing was an important contributing factor to urban decay and unrest, subsequent urban revitalization schemes would center on housing issues. Created by combining a number of existing New Deal federal housing agencies and administrations, the new department embarked on an ambitious and costly series of housing construction programs that offered government subsidies to buyers and builders.

But as has happened too often with HUD programs, this record performance was riven with fraud and excessive costs. Although the programs that led to the excesses were modified or terminated, their replacements often soon foundered for the same reasons and HUD now confronts multibillion-dollar exposures in deferred maintenance and accumulated losses.

High rates of crime in Detroit also characterize these central city housing projects. The festering crime in these HUD-subsidized projects spreads throughout Detroit and provides existing city residents and businesses with one more incentive to move elsewhere as the dysfunctional ghetto social culture of these federally sponsored public housing projects spills over into surrounding neighborhoods.

Thanks to the recent emergence of a new breed of urban conservative leaders who understands that urban revitalization begins at home Detroit stands on the brink of a new approach to urban revitalization. Following decades of a growing dependence on money, directives, and guidelines from Washington, D.C., that did nothing to halt the decline and deterioration of older cities, urban conservatives have discovered that the simple act of providing basic city services at levels of quality competitive with those offered by the suburbs are likely to have a powerful payoff by attracting and holding hard-working, tax-paying households and businesses to serve them.

Cities whose violent crime rates are closer to the national average, and to those in their suburbs, are cities that have held on to their populations or are actually gaining. And as a result of this finding, an increasing number of cities are discussing merging the Detroit Police Department with the Wayne County Sheriffs to make progress against crime.

After five decades of failure, it is time for Detroit's city government to get out of the way and give urban citizens free rein in devising strategies to save their cities.

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