Saturday, March 29, 2008

Movin' On

It's been a while since I met someone who moved to Detroit from some place else. I know it happens, and happens frequently, but not in droves. I would like to know more about their stories, because I hear so much about those heading in the other direction.

People are leaving Detroit, and it's not news. Well, it shouldn't be news, but the trend that never seems to show signs of reversing itself makes headlines each month, and March is no exception.

The Census Bureau released an estimate days ago that indicated three times as many Detroiters fled their city than any residents left any other metro area in the country over the past two years. Ouch.

We know that Detroit was once home to 2 million people and is now occupied by about 850,000 residents. As one of them, I've got to say the report was difficult to stomach. More than 27,300 people left in 2006 and 2007, according to the Census Bureau.

The scary issue for me is that I pass new construction of all types during my daily commute from the east side of the city into the central business district every single day. I drive by infill housing, new subdivisions, and lofts in both new and renovated buildings in and around downtown. An outsider would ask obvious questions like "Why are we still building?" and "How could any developer think that makes sense?"

My theory is that those of us who still believe in the city -- despite the recurring headlines and the mayoral scandal rocking city hall -- have to keep faith that the latest renaissance will result in the type of change that will eventually stem the tide. I've been writing about economic development in the city for 12 years, and despite the steady out-migration, economic malaise and recent mortgage foreclosure nightmare, there have been enough positives to remain hopeful. Collectively, I believe that true Detroiters have bought tickets for the ride and are seeing this thing out.

Nevertheless, this latest Census report stung a bit more than usual. I took solace in the fact that other cities across the Midwest and in other parts of the country are losing residents at a similarly alarming pace. They include Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Columbus, Ga., Youngstown, Ohio, and Buffalo, N.Y. Each has seen more than 5,000 people head for other municipalities over the two-year period covered in the Census review.

Many are heading to Texas, and I know why. Since I first started visiting relatives in Houston in the late 1990s I sensed the allure. The type of home you can buy in Texas for $150,000 would cost twice that in metropolitan Detroit -- or more. I remember having a conversation back in 1998 while visiting with my uncle in Houston about home prices. His $170,000 house would be worth about $400,000 in Grosse Pointe -- today. Yes, after the foreclosure mess that's caused home prices to plummet.

I mention the story because so many people are moving to Texas. In fact, Dallas-Fort Worth led the nation in population gain between July 2006 and July 2007, adding more than 162,000 residents. Houston, Austin and San Antonio, also nabbed top 10 spots among gainers.

Prominent demographer and director of research at United Way for Southeastern Michigan Kurt Metzger said something interesting this week. Actually, Metzger is a colleague, and he usually has something interesting to say, which I think is pretty cool for a guy who talks about numbers ad nausea.

What Metzger said, and I'm paraphrasing, is that one way to measure the pulse of a region is to look at the activity in the moving truck rental market segment. Makes sense, right? He said that renting a U-Haul from Detroit to Dallas would cost someone pulling up stakes for perceived greener pastures about $1,900. Conversely, renting that same truck for a move from Dallas to Detroit would cost about $500.

Man. That paints a pretty bleak picture for all of us who bought tickets for the renaissance ride.


Ursula said...

I was just reading a blog post about The Politics of Optimism and it reminded me of you and what you had to say here. Go check it out:

MR E DUB said...

Well my brother, I think you've hit the hammer on the head. I called Detroit home for 32 years before a light went off in my head.
That light showed me that the crime, politics and drama of living in Detroit was not worth the headache. I found solace in Cincinnati,OH, where the living conditions were better and hope still existed. My career has taken me to Atlanta, GA where not only my life has much more value, but the sun shines over 300 days per year! No more gloomy overcast days here....