At least once per week I receive a phone call which starts out the exact same way: “Hi, do you do work in Detroit?”. It saddens me each and every time because I know that the person is a Detroit resident or business owner who has struggled for years to get basic services for their home or business, services that they are ready and willing to pay for. It is a strange question to be asked because our office is on the border of Detroit; I can take a short walk and be in Detroit.
The practice of redlining has historical precedence in the insurance and real estate industries most notably, but less talked about is the decades old habit of local Metro Detroit service industries refusing to service properties located anywhere within the city of Detroit. They cite safety concerns, crime and poverty rates, stories of unpaid invoices and nefarious litigation, and often there is an overt or unspoken racism.
The current season of This Old House is filmed in Detroit and features some unusual sights. For one thing, the PBS show normally features a high priced paid renovation of a millionaire’s historic home somewhere in New England; this season they are donating work to help a Detroit Firefighter rehab an old house which was abandoned and looted of copper, as well as featuring the work of the City of Detroit’s Land Bank program. Secondly, the top quality contractors of This Old House seem out of place in Detroit because there are so many contractors who refuse to work in Detroit if they have the option to do work in the suburbs instead. What is the effect?
Detroit is full of single family homes from 20th century employment through the auto, pharmaceutical, and aeronautical industries. The white and black flight and massive layoffs of the last 45 years or so has caused these early to mid-20th century structures to fall into infamous dilapidation and vacancy. The health hazards of this disrepair are astoundingly devastating, and has costs that reach into the pockets of every tax payer, and will wreak havoc on countless generations to come. Lead poisoning from old paint and old plumbing is the most obvious concern, and also probably the most pressing. Coming in a close second is the tendency of old homes to burn quickly due to old construction practices such as balloon framing, which do not separate areas of the house into fire safe pockets. Structural problems from 5+layers of roofing stacked atop one another, old windows which allow theft, and burst plumbing causing mold are just a few more.
We service all areas of Detroit because it is the right thing to do. We do not refuse service to anyone willing to pay for our services. Of course it is the responsibility of the service industry leadership to make sure that employees are safe and secure at work, and additional security measures are called for in some instances.
I love working in Detroit. The architecture, Oh the architecture! The craftsmanship, Dear God the Craftsmanship! The people, white, black, Hispanic, Yemeni, polish, rich, middle class, struggling. An exceptionally beautiful tapestry woven atop the ashes of man’s hubris.
As a final note let me state that there is good money to be made from servicing Detroit homes and businesses. The folks in Detroit are by and large great customers, and are ready and willing to pay the same rates for service as the people in Royal Oak and Bloomfield Hills.
My fellow service industry people, let us get out there and service Detroit for the sake of all!