At public meetings in Detroit last week, residents spoke up about housing discrimination and officials finalized plans to engage immigrant populations in the city. Elsewhere, the Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) took action after the latest round of negative feedback from residents opposed to its proposed redesign of I-375. Billed by MDOT as the “I-375 Reconnecting Communities Project,” Detroiters have for months said real reparations would be the only way to reconnect with communities destroyed when the department razed the Black Bottom and Paradise Valley neighborhoods to build the freeway in the 1950s. MDOT announced Friday it is taking a pause to “modify its approach.”
For the rest of your weekly public meetings digest, read on.
The Michigan Civil Rights Commission held a hearing last week on housing discrimination, the first in a series to solicit public feedback. And though we — and the commission — expected a packed auditorium at King High School, few people showed up to talk about their experiences of discrimination in buying, renting or obtaining financing to purchase a home.
Those who spoke mentioned difficulties they encountered as Section 8 recipients, unreasonable income requirements when seeking rental housing and discriminatory increases in homeowners association fees after purchasing a condominium. Several speakers told stories of real estate agents asking them to remove photos of Black family members before listing their home or having it appraised. One said they received a higher second appraisal after doing so.
Steve Tomkowiak, executive director of the Fair Housing Center of Metropolitan Detroit, emphasized the need to focus on homeownership rather than low-income rentals, saying it creates long-term stability for families. “What we’re doing is not working,” he said, explaining that despite the Fair Housing Act passing in 1968, the disparity between white and Black homeowners has increased. Tomkowiak discussed the difficulty returning citizens face in the rental market and how homelessness increases the rate of recidivism. And he said there has not been a single successful administrative hearing or court case challenging appraisal discrimination.
The next hearing on Feb. 7 will take place virtually, open to all Michigan residents.
11/8/2023 Michigan Civil Rights Commission, Hearing on Housing Discrimination
Documented by Amy Senese, Christiana Beckley and Perry Sylvester
Detroit City Council’s Immigration Task Force met on Thursday for its final quarterly meeting of the year to begin coordinating community engagement for its strategic plan. The task force has brought in outside consultant Nourel-Hoda Eidy of Global Detroit to lead community research and engagement. Starting next week, community organizations will be identified for each of the target populations — speakers of Arabic, Spanish, French, Bengali, Pashto or Dari and English — to facilitate the spread of surveys to be used to create focus groups next year. Residents will be compensated $10 for filling out the anonymous survey or participating in a focus group.
Task force members have supported — and continue to support — various legislation before the state House. The Newcomer Rental Subsidy program kicked off last month, providing up to a year of rental assistance based on immigration status and household size. Meanwhile, two language access bills headed to Gov. Gretchen Whitmer require the state to provide written and oral translation services to non-English speakers. And a collection of bills known as Drive SAFE (Safety, Access, Freedom, and Economy) are waiting for a hearing in committee. They would allow Michigan residents to obtain a driver’s license regardless of U.S. citizenship or immigration status.
11/9/2023 Detroit City Council, Immigration Task Force
Documented by Amelia Benavides-Colón and B W
11/7/2023 Detroit City Council, Formal Session: Public commenters urge City Council to call for a cease-fire in Gaza and criticize a lack of reparations in MDOT’s I-375 plan.
Documented by Alex Klaus and Laura Kennedy
11/9/2023 Detroit Board of Police Commissioners: The board’s Office of Chief Investigator has 1,323 open cases of complaints against police officers; 873 are more than 90 days old.
Documented by Anna Harris and Lauren Ridenour
For more on the Board of Police Commissioners, check out the latest BOPC Watch.
Written by Noah Kincade, Alex Klaus and Amelia Benavides-Colón.