Detroit’s Population Numbers Suggest Immigrants Critical to City’s Future

While media stories over the last few years have understandably chronicled the intense redevelopment of downtown and Midtown Detroit—including stories on just about every single retail opening and corporate move—immigrants have quietly been helping to stabilize and revitalize key neighborhoods in Detroit.

Global Detroit’s recent analysis of Census data from 2010-2014 demonstrates remarkable trends that suggest immigrants are playing a critical, but largely unnoticed and untold role in the city’s revitalization.

Unfortunately Detroit’s U.S.-born population has continued to shrink over the last five years, decreasing 5.3 percent or 35,991 fewer U.S.-born residents between 2010 and 2014 according to the Census’ American Community Survey (ACS) One-Year average.

Detroit’s immigrant population has grown a remarkable 12.7 percent or 4,362 additional foreign-born residents during the same period (2010-2014). Immigrants, as a share of the overall population in Detroit, grew 17.8 percent (from 4.8 percent to 5.7 percent) during this period.

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Evidence is pretty clear that immigrants are critical, if not necessary, to population growth in Rust Belt cities in the U.S. From 1960 to 1980 29 of America’s 50 largest cities lost population. In the 25 years following 1980, 14 of those 29 cities experienced population growth and immigrants played a substantial role in all 14 cities, including accounting for all the growth in about half of the rebounding cities. Simply put, no great American city has been able to rebound from population loss without significant immigration growth.

Last week, Global Detroit, on behalf of the Welcoming Economies Global (WE Global) Network, worked with the Fiscal Policy Institute to release new research on the importance of immigrants as a source of new homeowners and vacant property acquisition in Detroit and 22 other Rust Belt cities. The research includes a new online tool that enables users to pick any of the 23 cities, select the cost of a new or rehabbed home, and determine the number of immigrant households currently renting who could afford the home with 27 percent of their after-tax income. The research and tool were covered by The Atlantic and CNN Money.

The tool highlights that there are over 3,300 immigrant families renting homes in Detroit who could affordably acquire vacant properties and rehab them into viable housing (using $50,000 as acquisition and rehab costs). Global Detroit has been quietly working over the past couple of years to help immigrant families acquire and rehab vacant homes in Southwest Detroit by acquiring tax-foreclosed properties from the Wayne County Treasurer and Detroit Land Bank Authority. Earlier this month our 15th Spanish-speaking family successfully completed a vacant home purchase, many of whom are first-time homeowners.

Global Detroit’s efforts to revitalize Detroit’s “opportunity neighborhoods,” as it calls them, is not limited to rehabbing vacant housing. Working with ProsperUS Detroit and the Detroit Economic Growth Corporation, the organization has helped immigrant entrepreneurs apply for and receive grants to expand their businesses and create more jobs.

Global Detroit also recently completed a six-month engagement process in the Banglatown neighborhood, along the Detroit-Hamtramck border, that brought together Bengali, Yemeni, African-American, and white residents to identify common concerns and priorities and develop coordinated approaches to improving the neighborhood for all residents. Global Detroit is working with Detroit Mayor Michael Duggan’s new Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs and the Detroit City Council Immigration Task Force to create stronger and more vibrant neighborhoods across the city.

While the Census numbers are encouraging that our strategies are taking root, revitalizing neighborhoods is about more than growing the population. Immigrants are helping to occupy vacant housing, launch new businesses, and volunteer for neighborhood block clubs and safety patrols. New immigrant families in Detroit help raise the quality of life for everyone, including African-Americans and longtime residents. Immigration is the untold American community revitalization strategy that has worked for generations and is very much a viable strategy in Detroit.

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