Detroit Public Housing

Detroit Public Housing (1992)
Duration: 00:28:48

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Themes: Urban Challenges | Motor City and Motown |

Guests: Bob Armstrong, Kevin Fobbs, Keith Butler, Ruth Williams
Host : Cliff Russell
Producer : Carlota Almanza


Summary: This show is aired in 1992, when the underprivileged of Detroit are finding increased struggle in many aspects of life. The show opens with the governor's comment on this issue, where he stresses that they will work to improve the situation for the underprivileged through things such as welfare reform, enterprise zones, and private control and ownership of public housing. Following the clip, Russell states that this installment of the show will probe the issues of public housing. City Councilman Keith Butler and Michigan State Housing Authority appointee and president of Habitat for Humanity Metro Detroit Kevin Fobbs join Russell. Ruth Williams, a civic activist and resident of the Herman Gardens public housing project is on the phone, as well as Bob Armstrong, from Omaha, Nebraska's Housing Authority.

Russell starts by questioning Butler, who is a point person in the housing issue. He asks him to characterize how they are in terms of housing in the city of Detroit, where they need to be going, and how speedily along they are progressing. Butler is a strong advocate for housing, mainly for people who can't afford high-income housing, but he believes that the state is in real trouble in regards to housing, particularly for those who are struggling. The city is demolishing housing that he believes can be refurbished and reused. Fobbs gives his perspective on where they are in terms of housing in Detroit, saying that Habitat has built 801, which is 72 units of housing, and if they follow this example, they could potentially rehab several hundred units of housing.

Russell then goes back to Butler, who has placed blame on the administration for a good deal of the housing problems, saying that there was mismanagement. He asks how the city is destroying homes when he said they could be rehabbed. Butler says that the administration is not nearly as involved s they should be, allowing some housing to become uninhabitable that could have been kept up, which was then demolished because it was seen as uninhabitable. Fobbs then talks about how Habitat works and how the program fits into the overall scheme of public housing in Detroit. He says that Habitat rehabs several thousand homes every year through volunteer work, and they work to keep families and neighborhoods together by building groups of housing units and giving them to those in need. It is volunteer and private sector.

They then discuss MSHDA, the Michigan State Housing Development Authority, and Russell provides a definition of the organization. It sells tax-exempt interest bonds and notes and taxable bonds for its support and oversees subsidized rental housing and the Neighborhood Grant Program.

Russell talks about the monies coming in to Detroit that are used to fund the housing system and how these monies may or may not have gone through the proper channels. This issue is being used as a "political football," and he questions Butler about his and his department's role in all this. Butler says that the city refused to use the money properly that was allocated to it. They then go on to talk with Bob Armstrong, who has been working for public housing in Omaha. He says that they attacked the issues facing public housing by putting together a long-range plan with all the organizations involved. Very few cities want to put together such long-range plans, but these are the most successful ways to combat housing problems. Ruth Williams then comes on the phone to give her perspective about what is going on at Herman Gardens and what she would like to see to see to get them what they need. She says that they have finally decided to open up units to be lived in, but these units have been vacant for a long time, and she thinks there should be turnover every thirty or forty days, which they are not doing. She also says they don't have sufficient lighting, and conditions aren't good, with drugs rife in the housing development.

They then take calls on the phone. A man wants to know why the government causes there to be involvement in the landlords' business. Butler says that the Public Housing Authority separates the government from the housing issue, and he believes that they need to work to separate the authorities from the landlords' business. Fobbs states his belief in tenant management, and he thinks that the ultimate goal is to have tenant ownership and management. He says the question of public housing is how quickly they can turn it over to the private sector (to get rid of public housing in the long-term). The next person on the phone wants to know what plans or models the city of Detroit, in cooperation with the Federal Government, has to address this problem inside the city. Butler says that an action team was sent to the administration, and they're working to make sure that the monies to help fix this problem are distributed properly over time.

Armstrong says that the first step to getting things done is to have everybody sit down together and develop a long-range plan. He does not agree with the idea that public housing should at some point be abolished, but he agrees with having good management, whether it is tenant management or a different type. He says that the goal of public housing should be to provide temporary housing for those who are struggling, but they should work to make sure that this is only temporary and not permanent housing for individuals.

Russell asks whether the current setup of public housing discourages some of the good things they discussed, such as pride in one's neighborhood and a lack of crime. Butler says that the lack of empowerment and involvement of residents creates problems. Ruth Williams agrees with him. Another caller asks why recently vacated buildings, such as a local hospital, can't be utilized as housing with all their available space. Apparently Councilman Kelley has been floating this idea to people, and they believe it is a good idea, although it has not been picked up yet.

The show finishes by showing what they found at the North American Auto Show. They have seen that there are only a few car models that are still made in Detroit, and they hope that citizens will support Detroit's economy when it comes to their decisions about purchasing cars.

Related Production Materials held at MSU Libraries, Special Collections:
Box 5, File 5, Public Housing-Who Should Pay? – January 13, 1992 – Show # 2311


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