Inner City Reporter on Detroit


   Click here to view recent ICP poems about Detroit...  Click here for ICP CRA Reporter

  Inner City Press/Community on the Move, though headquarted in the South Bronx, has a particular interest in Detroit. Detroit is a city that most looks like the South Bronx, with vacant buildings and movie theaters standing year after year forlorn. It is a city that has been redlined by major banks and insurance companies...

September 27, 1999 -- The community struggle to close down the Henry Ford Hospital medical waste incinerator is picking up steam. The incinerator had been temporarily closed in December 1998 to install air scrubbers, and was reopened in May. But recent tests show it is emitting toxic cadmium at twice the level allowed by the EPA. Two Wayne County Commissioners, and Detroiters Working for Environmental Justice, are calling for its permanent closure. Hospital spokesman Mike Whelan ascribes the cadmium emissions to correctable mistakes at the hospital: the incineration of rechargeable batteries. DWEJ says “Detroit residents already bear too great a burden from pollution.” Developing...

July 19, 1999

     A little recent (1995-1997) Detroit documentary history:

   The Federal Reserve Board has provided ICP with a file that the Fed has provided to Senator Gramm, who is conducting something of a witchhunt into communities' use of the Community Reinvestment Act, a file labeled “Huntington / First Michigan.” While this was an acquisition by Huntington in 1997, the file the Fed provided to Sen. Gramm included letter stretching back to 1995, consisting of correspondence between the Detroit Alliance for Fair Banking and Huntington Bancshares Michigan Inc.’s CEOs, first Charles Dharte, then Richard McNeece. Strangely, the Fed’s approval order for Huntington - First of Michigan (83 Federal Reserve Bulletin 930, November 1997) does not even mention these Detroit issues, implying that the Fed did not even consider the Detroit correspondence as a protest to the bank holding company application. So why did the Fed provide all these documents to Senator Gramm? Here’s a summary:

     In June of 1995, Huntington’s Charles Dharte wrote to the Detroit Alliance, deferring providing information to the Alliance because “we are in the process of digesting the new federal CRA regulations.” The Alliance responded in August 1995, renewing its request to meet, and noting that “We will also be participating in the August 28th meeting with the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago... and Huntington Banks.”

    By August 1996, the Alliance wrote to Huntington’s Mr. McNeece, stating that “Detroit Alliance for Fair Banking has completed successful negotiations with NBD, Michigan National, Comerica Bank and First Federal of Michigan. It is our intent to complete negotiations with the remaining lending institutions before 1996 year end.”

    On September 20, 1996, Huntington’s Mr. McNeece responded: “Since I have been unsuccessful in reaching you with four telephone calls, hopefully, this letter will reach you... As a newcomer to Michigan, I was surprised by both the content and tone of your recent correspondence and am hopeful that the two of us will have the opportunity to meet in the near future... Also, please change your records to reflect that I am Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Huntington Bancshares, Michigan, not First of America.”

    By January 1997, the Alliance wrote to the FDIC’s Chicago Office, stating that “we have been trying to bring Huntington Bank of Michigan to the negotiating table without success... This request is to find out what applications you have received from Huntington Bank of Michigan. We need as much information on them so we can be affective[sic] in our attempts to reach agreement.”

     On January 13, 1999, Huntington’s Mr. McNeece sent two letters, the first to the Alliance, stating that “I would like to coordinate a series of meetings and work sessions between your group, PT & Associates (our consultant) and representatives of Huntington Banks of Michigan.” Mr. McNeece’s second letter was to Paul Taylor, Jr., President of “PT & Associates Community Development Consulting,” stating that “As the bank’s consultant on urban and low-to-moderate income communities, I would like you to lead the discussions with the Alliance. I am aware that the Alliance’s request to negotiate a basis of lending and programming for the greater Detroit area may be in conflict with your consulting agreement with Huntington Bancshares. However, I felt it appropriate to involve you at this time. Please follow up this request with a letter to the Alliance introducing your firm and take the lead to bring this matter to a successful closure for all parties involved.”

     On January 15, 1997, Paul Taylor wrote to the Alliance, stating that “PT & Associates was retained by Huntington Bancshares in 1991 to develop a holistic banking program... Please contact me or my assistant.. so we can begin the process of growing the urban communities served by Huntington Banks of Michigan.”

     On January 27, 1997, the Alliance wrote to Huntington’s Mr. McNeece, stating “this is totally unacceptable. Detroit Alliance for Fair Banking has a policy that we only meet with the CEO or Senior Management of the lending institution that can make decision [sic] and we only meet after we receive the data requested... At our regular board of directors meeting it was decided to provide you with a date of February 14, 1997 to submit all information or we will take legal action against your institution.”

    Huntington’s Mr. McNeece responded by letter dated February 13, 1997, stating, “I am somewhat confused... inferred as a point of concern for the Alliance is the relationship that Huntington Michigan has with PT & Associates and your perception that the PTA was brought in to address or counter the Alliance’s efforts. PT & Associates has been the Bank’s consultant for low-to-moderate and urban areas since 1992... To move forward with legal action against the Bank is unfortunate.”

     A month later, on March 13, 1999, Huntington’s McNeece wrote again to the Alliance, referencing a meeting held on February 18. Mr. McNeece stated that “We are not a Detroit-based bank... we do not at all fit into your ‘pattern settlement’ with other area banks with whom you have struck agreements.”

     On April 2, 1997, the Alliance wrote to the FDIC, stating that it “would like to file a complaint against Huntington Bank of Michigan.” The Alliance followed this up with another letter on July 28, 1997, referencing the April 2 complaint, and stating that “as of this date, we have not received a letter from you stating that it will be part of the examination nor that you will speak to us in regards to Huntington Bank of Michigan’s performance. It is imperative that we are notified as soon as possible regarding the Application for Merger by Huntington Bank of Michigan and First of Michigan Bank... Please contact us as soon as possible to continue the process of questioning the merger.”

     There the chain of correspondence ends, replaced with Huntington’s August 1, 1997, response to the Fed to an unrelated protest from Columbus, Ohio. None of the above-reviewed correspondence was directed to the Federal Reserve System; nevertheless, the Fed provided all of it to Senator Gramm. The Fed’s approval order for Huntington - First of Michigan (83 Federal Reserve Bulletin 930, November 1997) mentions only the Ohio protest, and not the Detroit issues. It does not appear that the Fed even considered the Detroit correspondence as a protest to the bank holding company application. So why did the Fed provide all these documents to Senator Gramm?

    Inner City Press is inquiring into all of the above. Until the next time, for or with more information, contact us.

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May 3, 1999 --  The Michigan state legislature is considering an Urban Homesteading law, which would allow low and moderate income families to buy abandoned houses for as little as $1, if they can fix the homes up within five years. Perhaps not surprisingly, the initiative is supposed by both Democrat and Republican legislators. For Republicans, it represents a cutting of red tape, and creating incentives for people to “pull themselves up by their own bootstraps.” The proposed legislation would also allow cities to create “Housing Freedom Zones,” where people could build homes that would not have to comply with housing codes, but only be deemed “decent, safe and sanitary” by the state Department of Consumer and Industry Services.

   This could be a nationwide model, for cities, like New York, Cleveland, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Wilmington, and Washington D.C., with thousands of abandoned housing units. Detroit, for example, has over 39,000 abandoned homes, including 6,224 that the city government currently intends to demolish. New York City, where land values are surging, has taken to evicting homesteaders under the claim that their improvements have not been certified as safe. Given that New York currently has a Republican mayor and governor, these officials might (be made to) want to examine the Michigan legislation...

      Click here to view the Detroit News' 2/7/99 series on mortgage lending in Detroit...

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Detroit:  Inner City Press' Overview

“Detroit, in many ways, has always been an experimental city. Detroit was the first place to really industrialize in a modern way... It was the first city to feel the pinch of... foreign competition. To a large extent, what’s happened in Detroit has happened 10 or 15 or 20 years later in other American cities.”

                           ABC News, Primetime Live, November 8, 1990.

  Inner City Press/Community on the Move, though headquarted in the South Bronx, has a particular interest in Detroit. Detroit is a city that most looks like the South Bronx, with vacant buildings and movie theaters standing year after year forlorn. It is a city that has been redlined by major banks and insurance companies, yet one like the Bronx in which people of color are the majority, and land and opportunity exist for redevelopment.

    Will it be redevelopment that benefits those who have continued living in Detroit, even as others fled, even as the City administration has, for example, only seventy-some snow plows, compared to over 500 each in Chicago and Milwaukee? Or will it be a sell out, that benefits few current residents, who are told they should be happy with any redevelopment at all, whatever the beneficiaries?

    This reporter traveled to Detroit, from the Bronx, in October 1998. I walked around the shattered blocks around Grand Circus Park, then out along Woodward Avenue to the Detroit Museum of the Arts, past blocks and blocks of vacant land, check cashiers and pawn shops, supposed social services ensconced behind plexi-glass. Once back to the Bronx, I researched the history of Community Reinvestment Act advocacy and performance in Detroit.

   ICP worked with a coalition of Detroit residents in 1995, raising issues about National Bank of Detroit’s record of redlining when that bank was merging with First Chicago. Click here for a sample archived article from the Detroit News.  Since then, ICP has had a number of requests for help from Detroit, on issues not only of banking, but of insurance redlining, environmental justice, civil rights. The Federal courthouse in Detroit is all surrounded by abandoned buildings; down by the river you’ll find the Detroit branch of the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago.

   The current plans in Detroit involve building two new stadia, for the Tigers and Lions, and three new casinos. The City of Detroit appears to be using HUD Empowerment Zone money to demolish the remaining buildings of downtown Detroit -- a unique (and cynical) use of scarce development dollars. Isn’t it cheaper to repair already standing building, then to demolish them and pray for highfalutin projects like the much touted Campus Martius, which would involve a pre-existing computer company relocating to downtown Detroit in exchange for tax breaks?

   Detroit, like the Bronx, has been and is a hotbed of innovative culture. Hip hop was invented in the South Bronx; Detroit, however, has an even more extensive history, of Motown Records (until its relocation to California). But even today on Woodward Avenue, between the Fisher Freeway and DIA, there’s a grassroots Internet workshop, with kids typing and designing... And Detroit has the best block-by-block web site I’ve even seen, click here or see list of links, below.

  This page is the beginning of the Inner City Reporter’s Detroit project. We’ve already put in requests, under the Michigan freedom of information laws, for documents concerning the various demolition and redevelopment plans, about school integration plans, about funding disparities between city and suburb. What happens in Detroit -- happens elsewhere, in 10 or 20 years....

(Some) Detroit Internet Resources:

Fabulous Ruins of Detroit  -- Lester Boileau's tour of 1999 Detroit, in photographs and text.  Series on the demolition of Hudson's Department Store in October, 1998.

Detroit Mining Co. site

Detroit News -- Daily newspaper, with some history links

Crain's Detroit Business -- Voice of the suburbs, but interesting.

(Some) Good Books about Detroit:

The Origins of the Urban Crisis: Race and Inequality in Postwar Detroit, by Thomas J. Sugrue, Princeton University Press, 1996.

American Odyssey, by Robert Conot. Morrow & Co., 1974.

Devil’s Night, by Ze’ev Chafets, Random House, 1990. (A little more superficial, and the subject of much controversy among the Detroit power structure upon publication - but still useful).  

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