Politics & Government
4:02 pm
Fri July 19, 2013

What does bankruptcy mean for Detroiters?

Detroit's bankruptcy filing has raised a lot of questions, especially for people who live in the city. It's unlikely the day-to-day lives of Detroiters will change very much under a bankruptcy.

70,000 vacant homes in Detroit are one of many aspects of the city that remain in limbo while the bankruptcy case goes through the courts.
Credit JasonParis / Flickr

Lyke Thompson is the director of Wayne State University's Center for Urban Studies. He says Detroit's city services are already pretty bad, and that there will be few immediate differences for city residents, but things could get worse before they improve.

"There are already drastic cuts in services in the city. 40% of the streetlights are out. There are 70,000 vacant and open properties that haven't been boarded up or demolished," he said. "There are cutbacks in police so that some areas have 20-30% of the police service that they used to have. I think it's predictable that there will be further cutbacks."

But Jennifer Bradley with the Brookings Institution Metropolitan Policy Program says that's not necessarily the case.

"There have been pretty credible assurances from the Governor and the emergency financial manager that service delivery is not going to get worse," she said. "But it's pretty bad already. [Emergency Manager Kevyn] Orr at one point said he was going to invest $1 billion to shore up services in Detroit, and I think he still has access to those funds." Bradley says that money could go to fixing city streetlights, trash collection and police services.

Thompson says despite these assurances from Orr, Detroit faces a long road to recovery. "The difficulties of everyday life in the city, those sorts of problems are going to continue," he said.

He said the key to Detroit's future is focusing resources on areas of the city that are already on the upswing.

"I think there are parts of the city that are on a substantial trajectory of improvement, but we have a mixed picture in the city, and the need is to target improvements for the areas where the most people live."

Bradley says bankruptcy doesn't mean the city automatically shuts down.

"There's still a lot of good work going on in Detroit supported by the private sector, philanthropy and community groups. That is going to carry on even as the bankruptcy filing works its way through the courts," she said.

Both Thompson and Bradley agree that it will be a long time -- maybe years -- before Detroit is back on its feet.

-Sarah Kerson, Michigan Radio Newsroom