George Jackson Jr., the influential leader of economic development in Detroit, told an audience in Grosse Pointe Farms that he’s a staunch supporter of gentrification because the city needs a larger tax base to emerge from a decades-long funk.
Speaking at a forum about Detroit’s future Tuesday evening, the president and CEO of the Detroit Economic Growth Corporation said gentrification is “one of the costs of progress.”
“When I look at this city’s tax base, I say bring on more gentrification,” Jackson told the audience. “I’m sorry, but, I mean, bring it on. We can’t just be a poor city and prosper.”
Jackson’s surprisingly frank remarks on the topic seem to have gone unnoticed beyond the crowd of about 200 at the Grosse Pointe War Memorial.
But the comments couldn’t be timelier. In the past few weeks, hundreds of low-income residents and seniors have been told they are being evicted from at least four large apartment buildings. Three of those buildings were purchased by an undisclosed company, which sent eviction notices to residents on Henry Street in the Cass Corridor. It’s widely believed that Red Wings owner Mike Ilitch is targeting the corridor for a new hockey arena and entertainment district.
“They don’t care about us poor folks,” said Nathaniel Conners, 57, who is being evicted from one of the Henry Street apartments. “It’s always about the money, and money causes nothing but problems.”
In the Capitol Park district downtown earlier this month, seniors living in rent-subsidized apartments were told they had a year to vacate because of plans for pricier housing.
Gentrification is a sore subject among many Detroiters. Black residents were forced out of their homes in the 1940s and ’50s in the name of economic development. Their communities were leveled.
During Tuesday’s forum, Jackson said gentrification has to be handled “as humanistically as possible,” but he maintained the city has plenty of lower-income housing options.
“We have more affordable housing than any city in America,” Jackson said. “It’s not like we don’t have options.
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No doubt, the city’s tax base is shrinking and unable to pay for adequate services.
“I [would rather] manage this problem of having to deal with gentrification than having the problem where we had a lot of empty buildings and nobody who wanted to develop them,” Jackson told the audience.
“We have to build a tax base. … That’s one of the major problems that we have. We don’t have a tax base to support things we need to have.”
Steve Neavling lives and works in Detroit as an investigative journalist. His stories have uncovered corruption, led to arrests and reforms and prompted FBI investigations.