Susan J. Demas
An increasing number of Detroiters are living in substandard houses with moderate to serious maintenance problems, and the rate is highest among Black households, according to a new University of Michigan report.
The study found that more than 38,000 houses in the city are likely in need of major repairs, with problems ranging from broken furnaces, leaking roofs, electrical issues, crumbling foundations, broken windows, water stoppages, rodent infestations, and nonworking toilets. That represents about 13% of Detroit’s occupied houses.
By comparison, about 3.2% of houses in suburban Detroit have similar conditions.
In Detroit, Black households are three times as likely to live in substandard homes than white households.
The study includes rentals and owner-occupied homes.
People who live in substandard homes have an increased risk of health problems. Damp, cold and toxic homes, for example, increase the risk of tuberculosis, recurrent headaches, sore throats, cardiovascular and respiratory diseases, and lung cancer. Asthma rates are higher in homes with water leaks, poor ventilation and pest infestations. Poor housing quality may also lead to mental health problems, such as anxiety, depression, and social isolation in adults, and behavioral health problems in children. For seniors, living in a cold environment can lead to respiratory problems.
Substandard homes also are costly to the cash-strapped city. Dilapidated houses are often torn down at taxpayers’ expense, property values decline, and the public costs to address negative health outcomes rise.
The subprime mortgage crisis in the late 2000s disproportionately impacted Black residents, who have historically faced unfair housing practices.
“In sum, Black Americans have not had the same opportunities to secure housing, have had to pay more for housing, have had fewer choices for housing, and – due to discrimination in both housing and employment – have had less income with which to procure housing and make repairs,” the researchers said. “We pay particularly close attention to gaps in housing adequacy by race in this report because the initial and substantial support government offered to white Americans in their pursuit of safe and stable housing, but denied Black Americans, has never been redressed. And though home repair programs are an inadequate tool to rectify the harms done, it is one area in which we can act quickly to support homeownership and housing stability for low- and moderate-income Black households.”
Trouble is, the study found that there is nowhere near enough funding to help people in need of home repairs. Taxpayer and nonprofit spending is inadequate to address the need, and most of the available funding is for homeowners, not renters, who are twice as likely to live in a substandard home.
“Reforms to existing programs will not be enough to meet the needs of Detroit residents,” researchers concluded. “To truly meet the needs of a city faced with old homes and low incomes, more resources are needed.”
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