Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Downsizing in Detroit

From the Detroit News comes the story of the Detroit Mayor's plan to relocate residents within the city so as to consolidate the areas in which city services are needed:
Mayor Dave Bing said Wednesday he "absolutely" intends to relocate residents from desolate neighborhoods and is bracing for inevitable legal challenges when he unveils his downsizing plan.

In his strongest statements about shrinking the city since taking office, Bing told WJR-760 AM the city is using internal and external data to decide "winners and losers." The city plans to save some neighborhoods and encourage residents to move from others, he said.

"If we don't do it, you know this whole city is going to go down. I'm hopeful people will understand that," Bing said. "If we can incentivize some of those folks that are in those desolate areas, they can get a better situation."

"If they stay where they are I absolutely cannot give them all the services they require."

There are large abandoned areas of Detroit in which empty buildings sit. Detroit's population has been cut in half since 1950. I have heard discussions of this type before in which Detroit community activists recommend that large abandoned areas be returned to agricultural purposes.

I have heard of no other city where such a plan is being attempted, but Detroit may not be the last city to try to shrink itself.

There are large areas in Harrisburg occupied only by vacant lots or abandoned buildings. Such areas will grow if the city eventually adopts a recommendation to double property taxes.

If Detroit's plan works, it may be the first successful, peaceable effort to shrink a large city in history. The plan may become a model for other major cities.

One aspect that the article does not address is the title defects resulting from tax sales. If Detroit is anything like Harrisburg, there are many properties that have been sold at tax sales, thus creating a title defect on those properties. Those properties will remain unusable even after a consolidation unless arrangements are made (either through litigation or payment) with the owners that lost the properties at tax sales. The City will have to deal with not only the current occupants, but any owner whose interest was supposedly extinguished through prior tax sales. This problem might also hamper Detroit's relocation efforts, as properties to which Detroit attempts to relocate residents might also be encumbered with tax sale related title defects.

Tax sale title defects will continue to hinder municipal efforts to consolidate or otherwise revitalize blighted areas of cities.

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