detroit (MSA) does not need new construction

The Washington Post came out with a fake-good headline a few days ago about Detroit’s housing market, claiming that:

Among the nation’s top 20 metropolitan regions, only the Detroit and Washington areas posted annual home price increases, according to S&P/Case-Shiller home price data for October released this week.

The key here is that this is not Detroit; rather, this is the Detroit Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA). As compared to Detroit proper, which comprises 143 square miles, the Detroit MSA comprises the six counties surrounding Detroit, totaling to most of Southeast Michigan. Detroit’s crumbling population doesn’t exceed 1 million; Metro Detroit’s population exceeds 4 million. This trend isn’t occurring in Detroit proper, it is occurring in Metro Detroit.

What’s worse, the article continues:

Improbable as it might seem, the Detroit area is seeing an increase in building permits. Construction firms are dusting off their equipment and returning to work, and bidding wars are breaking out over desirable homes.

Well, okay, this isn’t Detroit, we’ve covered this already, but any increase in building permits and construction aren’t occurring within Detroit. As per Metro Detroit’s sprawl-inducing zoning policies, this growth is occurring admit a vacant housing crisis in Detroit proper, where some estimates list housing vacancies at 30% of the city’s housing stock.

Not all of this housing stock is usable, certainly not new, but the important point is that the infrastructure — the roads, the electricity, the schools — exists in Detroit proper and its nearest suburbs. And it is not being used to its optimum capacity right now. So instead, new construction continues to pull resources away from the natural urban pole to the outskirts of the Metro Detroit area, to places like Romeo, Shelby Township.

The outcomes of this urban policy make no sense, but are incredibly difficult to change. What, have Detroit leaders work with the suburbs? Years of animosity long ago ruined this vital relationship. Institute a smart growth boundary similar to what we’ve seen work in Portland? Tea Partiers in Troy, L. Brooks Patterson, and other Metro Detroit suburbs would never stand for it.

So no, WaPo, this is not a good thing. Detroit proper and Detroit metro do not need new housing construction. They need revitalization of what they have, not the cheap and unsustainable sprawl that their policies encourage.


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