SOUTHFIELD, Mich. Three years ago, Lamar Grace left Detroit for the suburb of Southfield. He got a good deal a 3,000-square-foot colonial that once was worth $220,000. In foreclosure, he paid $109,000.
The neighbors were not pleased.
They dont want to live next door to ghetto folks, he says.
That his neighbors are black, like Grace, is immaterial. Many in the black middle class moved out of Detroit and settled in the northern suburbs years ago; now, because of foreclosures, it is easy to buy or rent houses on the cheap here. The result has been a new, poorer wave of arrivals from the city and growing tensions between established residents and the newcomers.
Theres a way in which they look down on people moving in from Detroit into houses they bought for much lower prices, says Grace, a 39-year-old telephone company analyst. I understand you want to keep out the riffraff, but its not my fault you paid $250,000 and I paid a buck.
The neighbors say theres more to it than that. People like John Clanton, a retired auto worker, say the new arrivals have brought behavior more common in the inner city increased trash, adults and children on the streets at all times of the night, a disregard for others property.
During the summer months, I sat in the garage, and at 3 oclock in the morning you see them walking up and the down the streets on their cell phones talking, Clanton says. They pull up (in cars) in the middle of the street, and theyll hold a conversation. You cant get in your driveway. You blow the horn, and they look back at you and keep on talking. Thats all Detroit.
The tensions have not gone unnoticed by local officials.
Ive got people of color who dont want people of color to move into the city, says Southfield Police Chief Joseph Thomas, who is himself black. Its not a black-white thing. This is a black-black thing. My six-figure blacks are very concerned about multiple-family, economically depressed people moving into rental homes and apartments, bringing in their bad behaviors.
For example, They still think its OK to play basketball at 3 oclock in the morning; its OK to play football in the streets when theres a car coming; its OK to walk down the streets three abreast. Thats unacceptable in this city.
Thomas has seen the desperation of the new arrivals. His officers, handling complaints, have found two or more families living in a single house, pooling their money for rent. They have no food in the refrigerator and no furniture, Thomas says. They cant afford the food. They cant afford the furniture. But they were eager to flee the gunfire of their old neighborhoods in Detroit.
The foreclosure crisis made it possible.
We had a large number of people who have purchased homes from 2005 on, where the banks were very generous with their credit, and theyve allowed for people without documentation and income verification to borrow 95 to 100 percent of home values, Southfield Treasurer Irv Lowenberg says. Many purchased homes when they had two jobs in the household, and one of the jobs was lost.
As values began dropping, people were looking around and saying, Why should I stay and pay my mortgage when other people arent? They decided to hand the keys back to the bank.
Many of the foreclosed-upon Southfield homes were selling for $40,000 to $60,000. The median home value dropped from more than $190,000 to less than $130,000 over the same period, according to census figures.
With so many empty houses available, rents also dipped by hundreds of dollars. Renters increased from about 13,100 in 2006 to 15,400 in 2009.
The lure of low prices to Detroiters was obvious as was the likelihood that their arrival would not be without issues.
Blacks, like all Americans, want good schools and a safe community, and they can find that in the suburbs, says Richard Schragger, who teaches local government and urban law at the University of Virginia.
Now suburbs closest to big cities are bedeviled by the same problems that helped spur urban flight decades ago, Schragger adds. And youre seeing further flight out. Rising crime levels, some rising levels of disorder.
These were the things that prompted Richard Twiggs to leave Detroit 23 years ago for the safety, quiet and peace of mind Southfield offered.
The reason suburbs are the way they are is because a certain element cant afford to live in your community, adds Twiggs, a 54-year-old printer. If you have $300,000, $400,000, $500,000 homes, youre relatively secure in the fact that (the homeowners) are people who can afford it.
But when you have this crash, people who normally couldnt afford to live in Southfield are moving in. When you have a house for $9,900 on the corner over there that just destroys my property.