• Laura Berman: Detroit’s problem: Poverty, not gentrification

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    183024490One of Detroit’s new restaurants is set to pop up next week on the southwest side. The proprietors are emphasizing the tension between their $121-per-person dining concept and the gritty neighborhood they’ve chosen for “Goldfinch American.”

    A website promised to open this “experimental micro-restaurant” soon on “an ostensibly unattractive street — trash-lined and zipping with cars surrounding us will be laundromats, taquerias, a beautiful park, abandoned fortresses and neighborhoods thick with life lived fully.” There’s even a photo of dead pigeons.

    While the announcement verges on parody, the tension it’s pushing between rich and poor is a recurring theme. Hipsters, young professionals and loft-livers are alternately celebrated and denounced, as long-abandoned buildings get renovated and forgotten corners of downtown are redeveloped for residents arriving with youth, confidence, education and jobs.

    In a study of the nation’s 50 largest cities and income inequality, Detroit ranked 14th — with less of a gap between rich and poor than Dallas, a bit more than Minneapolis. A close look at the numbers, though, shows that Detroit has the poorest low-income residents — and the least-affluent at the high end — of any of the 50 cities studied.

    In San Francisco, the top 5 percentile of incomes is $353,576. In Detroit, households crack the top 5 percent with an annual income of $101,620. Detroit’s most affluent residents have far less household income than those in cities like Raleigh, N.C., ($199,000) Indianapolis ($150,000) or Tulsa, Okla. ($183,407).

    The flip side of the scale is also singularly low: Detroit’s bottom 20th percent of households is $9,083. That’s bone-crushing poverty, lower than any of the 49 other cities surveyed.

    These numbers, at the top and bottom in Detroit, surprised Alan Berube, the study author and deputy director of Brookings’ Metropolitan Policy Program. But they also suggest that Detroit desperately needs an infusion of working people whose salaries enable them to pay property taxes for the services all Detroiters need, as well as fuel a need for goods and services.

    Other cities have poverty but they also have high-wage jobs in health care, law, finance and media — jobs that Detroit lost over decades.

    Read more from Laura Berman in The Detroit News

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