Detroit Journalism Cooperative

To focus on community life and the city’s future after bankruptcy, five nonprofit media outlets have formed The Detroit Journalism Cooperative. The Center for Michigan’s Bridge Magazine is the convening partner for the group, which includes Michigan Radio, Detroit Public Television, WDET and New Michigan Media, a partnership of ethnic and minority newspapers.

To see all the stories produced for the Cooperative, you can visit Next Chapter Detroit.

Stories from Michigan Radio are shown below.

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

The unemployment rate in Detroit is nearly double the statewide rate. Detroit residents need jobs. But too few people have marketable skills. What does it take to go from out-of-work to trained and employed?

For 30 years a group in Detroit has been training people to go to work as machinists, in IT, and beginning this year, in health care.

Fatima Mixon shows her Focus: HOPE certificate. She got a job because of the training program.
Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

If you live in Detroit, getting a job is just the first hurdle. Sometimes you have to be incredibly resourceful just to get to work.

After finishing her training at Focus: HOPE to become a machinist, Fatima Mixon did not find a job in the city of Detroit.

But she did get a job in Warren, Michigan. She was put on the midnight to 8:00 a.m. shift. Shift work is the worst for people who need to take the bus to work. The buses don’t run overnight.

While central business districts in Detroit are seeing the beginnings of resurgence, the neighborhoods are lagging behind. People who live in the city need jobs. To get them, many need new skills. In the second of a series of reports for the Detroit Journalism Cooperative, we're following a student who is trying to get the training she needs to help her family.

In the first report, I introduced you to Fatima Mixon. She’s been studying at Focus: HOPE to become a machinist. A few weeks after I first met her at the school, I visited Mixon and her family at home.

The unemployment rate in Detroit is nearly double the statewide rate. Detroit residents need jobs. But too few people have marketable skills. What does it take to go from out-of-work to trained and employed?

For 30 years a group in Detroit has been training people to go to work as machinists, in IT, and beginning this year, in health care.

“When folks come out of here with that Focus: HOPE stamp of approval, you can be certain that you’re getting somebody who should work out pretty doggone well in your workplace,” said William Jones, CEO of Focus: HOPE.

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

Detroit is seeing more private investment and new businesses in its downtown areas, but some residents in the neighborhoods don’t see how they’re benefiting from that.

On a recent weeknight, I visited ten of Detroit’s popular night spots ranging from the trendy to the tourist spot to the traditional. All but one had something in common, the vast majority of the patrons were white.

Provided by Duane Kelley

We want to fill you in on what’s going on with Detroit’s retired firefighters.

These are the men and women who ran into burning buildings, day after day, some of them for decades.

And while they made it through the city’s bankruptcy with their pensions pretty much intact, they lost their health care.

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

Detroit businesses sometimes have a hard time finding qualified workers. Even a bakery determined to hire its neighbors has had a tough time.

“At one school I was hiring from,  I had to get rid of most of the people that I hired from that school because they didn’t know the poundage or how to read recipes or anything like that,”  Tony Johnson said. He’s the Human Resources manager for Avalon International Breads.

Ali Lapetina / Michigan Radio Detroit Journalism Cooperative

One thing that strikes us about Detroit – as the city teetered on the brink of insolvency, then entered Chapter 9 bankruptcy protection, and finally, last week, officially emerged from bankruptcy – is that life in the Motor City goes on.

We asked photographer Ali Lapetina to take her camera all over the city in a single day, and shoot pictures from before sunrise until after sunset. What she captured is exactly that: the life that keeps beating in Michigan's oldest and biggest and most complicated city.

Here are some of the people who remain in Detroit after the bankruptcy is over, and will be part of its future.

Detroit skyline.
user JSFauxtaugraphy / Flickr

Today a special edition of Stateside with the Detroit Journalism Cooperative on Detroit after bankruptcy:

  • We examine how the city is trying to get public services back on track with new initiatives for street light replacement and more buses on the road. 
  • Residents discuss the benefits of living in Detroit’s rich cultural environment and weigh these costs with continuing to deal with crime in the area.
  • Many of the issues that led the city of Detroit to bankruptcy are also affecting Detroit schools. We review how Detroit’s education system has adjusted to the decline in funding and enrollment.
  • Detroit’s central business district has gained attention after large acquisitions from private corporations, but many residents worry this growth is bypassing neighborhoods.
  • More companies are also seeing Detroit as an opportunity, establishing themselves in the area and hiring more residents of the city.

Detroit won’t be quite ready to exit bankruptcy until next month, city lawyers told Judge Steven Rhodes at a hearing Monday.

Judge Rhodes has already approved the city’s bankruptcy restructuring plan. But the city must still complete a couple steps before it officially leaves Chapter 9.

It needs to make sure its two-year budget reflects the plan’s terms, and release details of the plan to financial markets.

Key Bank building in Ann Arbor, MI
OZinOH / flickr.com

Michigan banks have made an impressive recovery since January 2011, according to quarterly data compiled by BauerFinanical Inc., a Florida-based ratings service.

As Tom Henderson from Crain's Detroit Business explained:

Foreclosure sign
Jeff Turner / Michigan Radio

Wayne County has begun tax foreclosure proceedings on nearly 75,000 properties, up 34% from 56,000 last year.

Treasury workers last month began posting notices on properties the county plans to auction next fall if owners don't pay taxes or agree to payment plans.

There are 62,000 properties in Detroit owing $326.4 million in taxes, interest and fees that are set to be foreclosed. Motor City Mapping data analyzed by Loveland Technologies indicates that 37,000 of those Detroit Properties are occupied.

Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

DETROIT (AP) - Cold weather will slow water shutoffs in Detroit, but not halt a nearly yearlong push to collect on past due accounts.

  Detroit Water Department spokeswoman Curtrise Garner tells The Associated Press that crews will stop disconnections only during long bouts of below freezing temperatures when the ground is too hard to reach water connections.

  Service has been disconnected to 31,300 customers since Jan. 1. A several-week moratorium allowed some customers to enter into payment plans.

Detroit skyline.
user JSFauxtaugraphy / Flickr

Detroit's historic and unprecedented bankruptcy came together last Friday for approval from Judge Steven Rhodes.

The Detroit News recently provided in-depth coverage from business columnist Daniel Howes and reporters Chad Livengood and David Shepardson.

We talked to Howes about how the case was completed in 15 months, about the key players, and about what must be done to avoid repeating mistakes.

You can listen to our conversation with Daniel Howes below:  

The group tasked with making sure post-bankruptcy Detroit stays solvent met for the first time Wednesday.

The nine-member Detroit financial review commission will serve as the last word on the city’s financial decisions for at least three years.

The panel will review and approve all city budgets, major contracts and collective bargaining agreements during that “control period.”

Detroit's riverfront.
Ian Freimuth / Flickr

Matt Helms at the Detroit Free Press reports that Mayor Mike Duggan has some sticker shock over the cost of Detroit’s bankruptcy.

Helms reports that Duggan “is alarmed” that the city will have to pay lawyers and consultants close to $200 million. Duggan worries the payout could put the city at risk of not meeting the terms of the city’s plan of adjustment – a plan the federal bankruptcy judge approved last week.

More from Helms and the Detroit Free Press:

Three people familiar with Duggan's views on the fees told the Free Press that the mayor believes the total fees could climb close to $200 million, an amount he worries could jeopardize the city's ability to meet the bankruptcy's financial terms. That compares to the roughly $100 million that many bankruptcy experts predicted would be the cost when Detroit filed for the nation's largest-ever municipal bankruptcy in July 2013.

A spokesperson for former emergency manager Kevyn Orr disputes that the bill could reach $200 million, saying the fees charged to the city reached $144.3 million as of October 31.

Sarah Cwiek / Michigan Radio

Having secured court approval for its bankruptcy restructuring last week, Detroit is now ready to emerge from bankruptcy.

But some Detroit residents and activists say that plan sacrificed both democracy and the public interest.

The group Detroiters Resisting Emergency Management says the bankruptcy process was about imposing financial solutions on social and political problems.

And they believe the newly-approved “plan of adjustment” won’t benefit the vast majority of Detroiters.

Whenever surveys are taken as to which professions are the most trusted and admired, journalists are pretty near the bottom. We used to beat out used car salesmen, but I think that thanks to regulation, they are in better standing these days.

Today, journalists and lawyers usually take turns at being the least admired. I don’t propose to talk about why lawyers are so unpopular; after all, I don’t want to be sued. But I do know why reporters are held in such low repute.

Part of it is our own fault.

As in, when a TV reporter sticks a microphone in the face of somebody whose child has been murdered and asks, “how do you feel?”

But even when we do our jobs well, we make people dread us. We tell you that the system doesn’t work, and the politicians are corrupt, and the water is tainted, and the priest is embezzling from the parish - things like that.

That’s what we are supposed to do.

We seldom show up just to tell you good news. Maybe the best thing we can say about our society is that decent behavior still isn’t news.

Except - in some contexts.

Detroit will exit bankruptcy.
Ian Freimuth / Flickr

Federal bankruptcy Judge Steven Rhodes has approved Detroit's plan to exit bankruptcy. Rhodes' ruling comes after several major creditors reached deals with the city in recent weeks.

The ruling clears the way for the city to shed around $7 billion in debt.

More from the Detroit News:

Part of the Diego Rivera mural in the DIA. Foundations pulled together to help save the art in the museum.
Joseph Gallegos / Flickr

It’s hard not be awed by the scale and detail in Diego Rivera’s Depression-era “Detroit industry” murals at the Detroit Institute of Arts, but these scenes depicting both the splendor and hardship of an industrial powerhouse were potentially at risk in the city’s bankruptcy.

That’s because right now, Detroit owns the museum and its world-class collection.

And that made Detroit’s creditors—collectively owed billions of dollars—ask: Why shouldn’t the city have to sell at least some of it to pay them?

Darren Walker, President of the Ford Foundation, says the idea was offensive.

“The idea that the art could actually be auctioned off was so … antithetical to our idea of democracy and the role of cultural organizations.”

But that fear actually turned out to be an important lever in the bankruptcy case.

Charles & Adrienne Esseltine / Flickr / Flickr

The City of Detroit and Wayne County are making concerted efforts to tackle two big problems: the lack of money, and blight.

They’re zeroing in on abandoned houses and homes where owners have fallen behind on their taxes - pay up or face foreclosure.

The foreclosed houses are being offered to those who will fix them up, keep them up, and pay taxes.

What does all of this mean for the people who've been living in those houses? Writer Rose Hackman looked into that question. Her story, "One Fifth of Detroit's Population Could Lose Their Homes," is in The Atlantic.

Detroit has barely half the number of people it did 30 years ago, and only about a third of its population 60 years ago.

The city is now waiting, as we all are, to see how federal Judge Steven Rhodes will rule on the city’s plan to get out of bankruptcy. Nobody has any illusions the future will be easy.

But here’s something to think about: there was no mass arson in the city last night. Devil’s Night seems truly a thing of the past.

Even that term is politically incorrect. They call it Angels’ Night now.

Detroit’s bankruptcy trial wrapped up Monday with closing arguments.

At issue: whether the city’s plan of adjustment to restructure its debt is “fair and equitable” to its various creditors, as required by Chapter 9 of the municipal bankruptcy code.

Judge Steven Rhodes must also decide if the plan is “feasible”—whether Detroit can balance its books and avoid slipping back into bankruptcy.

City of Detroit

Detroit emergency manager Kevyn Orr took the stand again Tuesday in the 22nd day of the city’s bankruptcy trial.

Orr testified mostly about Detroit’s recent settlement with bond insurer Financial Guaranty Insurance Corporation. That deal is outlined in a draft of the ninth version of Detroit’s plan of adjustment (the city’s proposal to “adjust” its debts in bankruptcy court).

Detroit skyline
Ian Freimuth / flickr.com

Members of the United Nations Human Rights Commission heard testimony in Detroit this week from citizens who are struggling to secure affordable water and housing.

Nicole Hill is a Detroiter who has had her water shut off twice this year. Hill says the water department tells her she owes more than $6,000 — a number she vigorously disputes.

“I have asked for a hearing, and I was told that I could possibly get a hearing date sometime in 2015,” she said.

For Mignon Jennings, the cost of her water bill has put her in danger of losing her Detroit home.

“$3,000 for a water bill for one year? That’s ludicrous. That’s crazy. And I believe something needs to be done.”

The UN panel has criticized Detroit’s policy of cutting water service to people with delinquent bills.

Panel members issued recommendations on the situation Monday. They also met with Mayor Mike Duggan.

Duggan's chief of staff, Alexis Wiley, defended the administration's response to the water shutoffs, pointing out that the number of customers on payment plans has almost doubled to about 33,000 since Duggan announced his 10-point plan on dealing with them in August.

Wiley said the meeting was unproductive. "Unfortunately, it became clear shortly into the meeting that the UN representatives had reached their conclusions and prepared their recommendations before the meeting had even begun," she said in a statement, that also accused the UN of singling out Detroit for criticism of a "standard practice among utilities."

Pages