The voices of Urban Institute's researchers and staff
July 26, 2017

New growth in Detroit and Southeast Michigan also yields new housing challenges

July 27, 2017

The 50th anniversary of the 1967 Detroit uprising has led many to reflect on its role in shaping the city and region. In the aftermath of a police raid on an unlicensed African American after-hours club, the five-day crisis resulted in 43 dead, over 1,000 injured, more than 7,000 arrests, and more than 2,000 destroyed buildings.

The confluence of economic, political, and demographic factors that led to the uprising continue to manifest in new challenges today. As the population of Detroit stabilizes along with renewed optimism, now is a good time to assess not only where the region has been, but where it will go.

Our new report, Southeast Michigan Housing Futures, indicates that the region is expected to continue growing by about 380,000 households between 2010 and 2040. Detroit will return to growth for the first time in decades.

Though this growth is promising, it presents problems that people throughout the region will need to understand and grapple with and that cannot be tackled with traditional understanding of the city-suburban and black-white divides.

We’ve identified three primary housing challenges that the region will face:

1. An aging population

The story of the decline of the city and the rise of suburbia has played out across the United States in the past 70 years, with the post–World War II economic boom (coupled with massive federal investment in transportation and housing) leading to rapid suburban growth and employment and then the decline of many older cities.

Detroit exemplified these trends: the city’s population, which peaked in 1950 at 1.85 million, has dropped to an estimated 670,000 as of 2016, even as the region’s population has grown from about 3 million to over 5 million.

The growth of the baby boomer generation coincided with the city’s troubles and the region’s suburban expansion. The aging of this generation is expected to shape the region’s future.

The number of senior-headed households is expected to double between 2010 and 2040 (from 413,000 to 828,000). As households age, local stakeholders and officials will need to figure out how to meet the changing needs of older residents throughout the region.

2. A decline in African American homeownership

Race has played a central role in the changes experienced by Detroit and the region. It is easy to forget that, in 1970, Detroit was still, if barely, a majority-white city. By 2010 it was 82 percent African American.

In the wake of 1967, Detroit became a place of opportunity for African Americans seeking homeownership. However, African American households in the region have been  disproportionately harmed by the recent housing crisis. 

Homeownership rates dropped from higher than the national average in 1990 and 2000 to in line with the national average by 2014. Restoring African American homeownership levels to that of 2000 (before the subprime boom) would shift 31,000 renter households into ownership by 2040.

3. A growing demand for affordable, safe, and stable rental housing

With demand for rental housing growing throughout the region, lower-income households will have an increasingly difficult time in finding safe and affordable rental units. Adding new supply and preserving existing rental housing will be a challenge.

Translating an awareness of these shared challenges into strategies and action will not be easy. The city of Detroit has a dedicated set of stakeholders and a single jurisdiction to work within, but the diversity and stark divides of suburban municipalities makes working across these boundaries especially difficult. Smaller municipalities may not have the resources to identify and respond to important trends.

Working together to share information, best practices, and efforts, may provide a more firm foundation on which to grow beyond the effects of 1967.

Boys play basketball on the street on September 5, 2013 in Detroit, Michigan. Photo by Andrew Burton/Getty Images

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