Southeastern Michigan Counties Hold Power in Regional Authorities

In Southeastern Michigan there are eight main regional governing bodies, most of which rely heavily on the counties to fill out the structures. These governing bodies are: the Huron Metro-Parks, the Detroit Institute of Arts Authority (one in each Macomb, Oakland, Wayne), the Detroit Zoo Authority (one in each Macomb, Oakland, Wayne), the Suburban Mobility Authority for Regional Transit, the Great Lakes Water Authority, the Regional Transit Authority and the Detroit Regional Convention Center Authority and the Southeast Michigan Council of Governments (SEMCOG).

Each of these regional governing bodies are made up of individuals who have been either appointed by a County Board of Commissioners, a County Executive, or a combination of both. County Executives have the most appointment authority. With the exception of SEMCOG and the Huron-Clinton Metroparks County Executives have some type of appointment authority with each regional body. This power, for both the counties and the County Executives, is one of the structural patterns that exists in this region’s fragmented group of regional authorities. The City of Detroit Mayor and the Governor have roles in the various authorities, but to a much lesser extent.

Another pattern that exists is that none of these regional bodies allow for their seats to be filled by elections, causing a lack of accountability and an increased ability for personal interests to be pursued. Instead of electing individuals to govern these public bodies, dozens of public officials are hand picking individual candidates to fill the seats. This process, for each regional authority, allows for stakeholders to pursue these new roles to exercise their influence over the governing body. This new layer of politics is also coupled with the fact that the elected officials, particularly county officials, can further their personal agendas with the appointing powers they have been given in this rise of fragmented regionalism.

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With eight various regional authorities now overseeing the governance of everything from our cultural institutions to water, the way in which these bodies are structured in terms of members vary greatly. For example, when looking at the Detroit Institute of Arts authorities for the counties (Macomb, Oakland and Wayne) none of the three have the same number of individuals on their board (click here for the history of the art authorities). Despite that each board has been set up for the same purpose-to oversee the DIA millage founds levied in their county-how they are structured vastly varies. In Wayne County, the Board of Commissioners have the authority to appoint six of the nine members; the Board then confirms the Wayne County Executives three appointments. In Oakland County the Board Chair appoints three members to the Art Authority and the County Executive appoints two. In Macomb County there is a seven member board, the County Board Chair appoints two members, the County Executive appoints two members and three members are appointed by the County Executive, with approval from the Board of Commissioners.

The Detroit Zoo is the only other regional entity with three different boards (one per county in which the operational millage is levied) that serve as its overall governing authority. The number of members who serve on each County board for zoo does not vary, but a look at the total number of representatives on each board, whether it be a Zoo Authority or SEMCOG greatly varies between 5 members to 47 members (SEMCOG is the only one with 46 members). The total number of representatives on each regional authority is shown in the chart above.

The legislations that created other regional authorities states each authority will only have a single governing body. However, even with those bodies we see the number of representatives vary, as do appointing authorities, which are often times defined in the body’s articles of incorporation.

These varying structures and appointment authorities again show the fragmented nature of our regional authorities. Until the financial downfall of Detroit began regionalism never strongly existed in Metro-Detroit. However, that has since changed as these bodies emerged out of economic and functional necessities.

Due to the manner in which these regional governing bodies emerged ( for more historical context click here) there is no cross functional consolidation of the kind envisioned by proponents of metropolitan governance. This functional differentiation is consistent with the polycentric nature of metropolitan Detroit, the decades-long animosity between Detroit and its neighbors, and persisting racial tensions.

 

For additional historical context on the topic of regionalism in Southeastern Michigan, below is a table highlighting which state legislations gave way to each regional authority.

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Rent Costs Increase throughout Michigan between 2000-2014

In 2014 there were 122 different communities in the state of Michigan with gross median rental costs above $1,000; Bloomfield Hills topped this list with a gross median rent price of $2,001. Despite this community being at the top of the median gross rental cost list for the state it experienced a 5 percent median rental price decrease between 2000 and 2014. On the opposite end of the spectrum, in 2014 there were 72 different Michigan communities with median gross rental prices under $500 a month; Rose City in Ogemaw County had the lowest gross median rental cost at $294 per month. Like Bloomfield Hills, Rose City also experienced a decrease in its median gross rental cost between 2000 and 2014. However, for Rose City that decrease was much greater; there was a 50 percent median gross rental cost decrease between 2000 and 2014.

On a national basis, in 2014 the gross median rental cost was $920 and 41 percent of rental units throughout the U.S. had a gross median rental price above $1,000; 12.1 percent of the rental units in the U.S. had gross median rental costs below $500.

For this post, data from the year 2000 is from the decennial census while the 2014 data is from the 5 year American Community Survey. Additionally, when comparing gross median rent data between 2000 and 2014 (as seen in the second map) the 2000 rent prices were adjusted to reflect 2014 dollars so a more accurate reflection of the changes could be presented.

Gross rent is defined as the monthly amount of rent plus the estimated amount of utilities and fuel.

MedGrossRent2014

The map above shows the range of median gross rental costs throughout the state of Michigan in 2014. Looking at the highest bound of rents–$1,275 and there were 20 communities throughout the state, 13 of which were located in Southeastern Michigan and seven of which were located in Oakland County. Of those in the region, two were located in Wayne County-Grosse Pointe Shores and Grosse Pointe Farms. As noted, there were over 100 communities with gross rental prices above $1,000 in Michigan in 2014.

Regionally, there were also five communities on the lower end of the spectrum, with gross median rental costs below $625. The city of Highland Park was the only one located in Wayne County, with a gross median rent of $624. The city of Center Line had the lowest gross median rental cost in the region at $492.

The city of Detroit had a gross median rental cost of $756 in 2014. This was in the 42 percentile of gross median rental prices throughout the state. Detroit’s gross median rental cost was higher than more than 50 percent of the other communities in the state.

ChangeRent00to14

In total, there were 80 Michigan communities with gross median rental price increases above 50 percent between 2000 and 2014 (These are the communities for which there was full data for comparison). Of those 80 communities, four were located in the Southeastern Michigan region, two of which were located in Oakland County. Of those communities, Orchard Lake Township had the highest percentage change in gross median rent at 117 percent. In 2014 the gross median rent in the township was $1,909 and in 2000 (in adjusted 2014 numbers) the gross median rent was $879 ($635 in 2000 dollars).

Cross Village Township in Emmett County had the largest overall gross median rental cost increase between 2000 and 2014 (in 2014 dollars) at 132 percent. In 2014 the gross median rental price in the township was $915 while in 2000 the price (in 2014 dollars) was $415 (equivalent to $300 in non-adjusted 2000 dollars). It should be noted though that this Lake Michigan town had a population of 294 in 2014, meaning that a small number of large increases in rent could produce the large reported change in the median.

Of the 27 communities in Michigan with a decrease in gross median rental costs between 2000 and 2014 for which full data was available for comparison, only two were located in Southeastern Michigan. These communities-Rose and Sylvan Lake townships in Oakland County and Deerfield Township in Livingston County-experienced rental rate decreases at 1.5 percent, 2.7 percent and 25 percent, respectively.

Between 2000 and 2014 the city of Detroit’s gross median rental cost increased by 12 percent. Detroit’s gross median rental cost increase was higher than about 70 percent of the other Michigan communities between 2000 and 2014 (when comparing in 2014 dollars). While not depicted in either of the maps, it was reported on July 23 2016 by the Detroit News that the housing market in Downtown Detroit continues to soar, with average rents increasing more that 11 percent since 2011 in that area of the city. According to the article, the average monthly rent for a one bedroom apartment in Downtown Detroit is $1,359.

Overall, about 65 percent of the state’s cities or townships had gross median rental cost increases between 2000 and 2014, when dollars were adjusted for comparison. Various reasons may explain the overall increase in gross median rental costs (in comparable dollars) throughout the state, the most likely of which is greater demand. The 2008-2009 recession produced a large uptick in foreclosures, nationally and throughout the state. With this, many people were left looking for affordable rental units. With an increase in demand comes an increase in price. In a future post we will discuss the overall change in rental rates throughout Southeastern Michigan between 2000, 2010 and 2014, but according to the U.S. Census Bureau we do know that on a national basis the recession produced a greater demand in rental units. Since gross median rent also includes the estimated cost of utilities and fuel, increases in energy costs overtime are also likely contributors to the overall increase.

Locals Push Ahead as Michigan Takes Steps Backward for LGBT Inclusivity

Just over a year ago love won nationwide when the Supreme Court ruled in favor of same-sex marriage. County courthouses across Michigan began issuing marriage licenses to those who wanted a legally recognized union, despite their sexual orientation and gender identity. However, even such a monumental move toward equality didn’t serve as a catalyst for the State of Michigan to make strides to secure other basic human rights for the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) community. In fact, state level statutes have failed to recognize equality for the LGBT community, whereas at the local level various officials are working to ensure comprehensive civil rights policies exist in the areas they have jurisdiction over.

Currently, there are 46 Michigan cities and counties, combined, which provide some type of employment and/or housing discrimination protection to the LGBT community. Fourteen of these local government entities, including three counties, are located in Southeastern Michigan. Just in Southeastern Michigan, those 11 communities with inclusive non-discrimination policies make up 23 percent of the region’s population. The three counties with such policies-Macomb, Washtenaw and Wayne-make up 64 percent of the population. But, while these efforts deserve to be applauded, many of the policies are by no means comprehensive. At the municipal level expanded civil rights policies are to be adhered to by all employers and/or housing providers. This isn’t necessarily the case at the county level though. Macomb County’s human rights policy is only extended to the county’s 2,200 current and potential employees; its contracting policy doesn’t even reflect the changes.

Both historical and recent policies, and lack thereof, at the state level have created a culture that lacks inclusion and basic human rights protections. Currently the Elliott Larsen Civil Rights Act (the state’s non-discrimination policy) does not include sexual orientation or gender identity and expression. Attempts to amend this statewide civil rights act have occurred since 1973 (a year after East Lansing and Ann Arbor adopted their policies), the most recent being 2014. The proposed 2014 amendments aimed to add exactly what is missing, however those amendments were never approved in the legislature. This lack of action and support for basic human rights continues to leave Michigan without a blanket discrimination protection for the LGBT community and a political gesture toward inclusivity.

Although the legislature failed take action on the Elliott Larsen Act, in the summer of 2015 three Religious Freedom Adoption bills became law, allowing religious organizations to deny placement of a child in a home based on religious grounds. These bills did not have direct language against the LGBT community but it can be argued they are, at least in part, targeted at by these bills. State Rep. Andrea LaFontaine said the bills were meant to protect the public-private partnership that allows Michigan to have an 80 percent adoption rate. She said,  by making the then proposed bills law, no agency would have to choose “between their faith and helping children.” The Human Rights Campaign said these laws make it even more difficult for LGBT couples to adopt, particularly as the Michigan Catholic Conference and Bethany Christian Services make up 25-30 percent of adoptions that occur in Michigan, according to information provided by Gov. Snyder’s office to the Washington Blade (link). These laws may have protected those public-private partnerships, but they also opened up another avenue for discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

Not even a year later it seems another door toward discriminatory practices could open. Proposed House Bill 5717 and Senate Bill 993, which were introduced to the Legislature a few months ago, aim to keep the use of public school restrooms restricted to those with the same biological sex; SB 993 goes as far as relying on chromosomes). Anatomy and gender are not one in the same, and while the supporters of these bills claim they are trying to protect the children, the effect is likely to be discrimination against them.

Michigan citizens do not have access to fair employment, housing and family planning options because of their sexual orientation or gender identification, and that soon may be extended to the use of the restroom. Yes, there have been concentrated attempts at the local level to broaden access to these basic human rights for over 30 years. However, some of the State’s elected leaders continue to build walls, including between children, even as local government entities and the nation tirelessly work toward acceptance and inclusivity.

Below is a timeline and a map showing the most recent years in which a Michigan municipality implemented a more comprehensive non-discrimination policy that addresses equal employment and/or housing rights based on gender identity and/or sexual orientation.

Items to note:

  • East Lansing was the first local government entity in the nation to enact to include sexual orientation in its civil rights protections. East Lansing expanded its original 1972 policy that provided employment protections based on sexual orientation to include housing protections in 1986 and to include gender identity in 2005. Since 2005 was the most recent policy amendment East Lansing is listed under 2005 in the timeline and on the map.
  • Ann Arbor adopted policies that provided residents employment and housing protections in 1972; in 1999 it expanded those protections to include gender identity. Ann Arbor is listed as amending its policies in 1999, not 1972, because that was the most recent change.
  • Detroit updated its initial 1979 employment and housing protections beyond sexual orientation to include gender identity in 2008. Detroit is listed as adopting comprehensive non-discrimination policies in 2008 because, again, that was the most recent year they were updated.

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Zippia: Michigan’s Living Wage is $49K

Using MIT’s living wage index, the website Zippia created a website showing what the living wage in every U.S. state is. According to the website, to support two adults and one child in the state of Michigan it costs $49,000. This put Michigan in the third quintile. Illinois and Wisconsin both had higher living wage costs, $51,000 and $52,000 respectively, while Indiana and Ohio had lower living wage costs, $47,000 and $46,000, respectively.

To read the article and view the map click here.

Suicide, Substance Use Causing Increased Mortality Rates Among White, Middle-aged Men

Suicide rates are increasing and locally the number of suicides were either highest among those 20-44 or 45-74, as detailed in a recent Drawing Detroit blog post. According to a recent New York Times article, suicide is a cause of death that is not only growing in Southeastern Michigan, but nationally. Throughout the state of Michigan, according to the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, suicide was the fourth leading cause of death for white males between the ages of 35 and 49 (244 suicides total).

The article details recent research conducted by Princeton Economists Angus Deaton and Anne Case, which concludes that the rising death rates among middle-aged white men are being caused by suicides and issues related to substance use. According to the article, the mortality rate for white Americans between the ages of 45 and 54 with no more than a high school education increased by 134 deaths per 100,000 people. While the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services does not detail mortality rates by race, age and education level explicitly on its website, it does show that the mortality rate from white males between the ages of 45 and 54 increased from 469.7 to 494.4 between 2000 and 2013. Just as the death rate for white American males is increasing nationally, Michigan is also experiencing the plight.

While suicide rates have contributed to the growing mortality rate for this segment of the population, Deaton and Case found that suicide coupled with deaths caused by drug use and alcohol poisoning are what explained the increased mortality rate.

No direct explanations were discovered for the increase in suicide deaths and deaths caused by drug and alcohol use, however, Deaton found that increases in mortality rates for middle aged white men were parallel with the same population’s reports on distress, pain and poor health. This correlation, he said, could be used a rationale for the increase in the type of deaths.

 

For more on this article click here.

To learn more about suicide rates in Southeastern Michigan click here.

Detroit’s vacancies decline, according to US Postal Service

The most recent (June 2015) quarterly statistics from the U.S. Postal Service showed a decline in the number of vacant addresses in the city of Detroit. The total number of vacant addresses decreased by 1,936 from 92,464 to 90,528 for the period March 2015 to June 2015. The total number of residential addresses increased by 831 from 361,171 to 362,002. The total vacancy rate declined from from 22.8% percent to 22.3 percent.

However, the number of addresses classified as “no-stat” increased sharply by 1,563. Mail carriers denote properties as being either “vacant” or “no-stat.” Carriers on urban routes mark a property as vacant once no resident has collected mail for 90 days. Addresses are classified as “no-stat” for a variety of reasons. Addresses in rural areas that appear to be vacant for 90 days are labeled no-stat. So are addresses for properties that are still under construction, and urban addresses that the carrier decides are unlikely to be occupied again any time soon — meaning that both areas of high growth and severe decline may be labeled no-stat.

Source: United State Postal Service via HUD, March 2015.

June 2015 Address Vacancy Rates by Census Tract

(percentage of all addresses that are vacant)

Change in Address Vacancy Rates: June 2015 versus June 2014

(percentage point change)

Red = Increase in address vacancy rate

Green = Decline in address vacancy rate (improvement)

Top 25 Best Performing Neighborhoods for June 2015 versus June 2014

The map below illustrates the Detroit neighborhoods showing the largest percentage point reductions in their address vacancy rate. A reduction in the vacancy rate may result from an increase in occupancy or by way of demolition activity (which also reduces the number of vacant addresses). Concentrated demolition activity in the McNichols/Gratiot area has reduced the address vacancy rate but these areas still rank among the highest in the city at nearly 40 percent vacant.

For a map of demolitions, see the City’s Demolition Data Lens page at https://data.detroitmi.gov/view/vcn9-abmp

Top 25 Worst Performing Neighborhoods for June 2015 versus June 2014

The highlighted neighborhoods showed the largest increases in their vacancy rates between June 2014 and June 2015. Sixteen of the top 25 census tracts which showed increases in address vacancy are located on the west side of the city. Two eastside neighborhoods near Van Dyke and Outer Drive also showed sharp increases in address vacancy.

 

WSJ: 28 percent of Wayne County homes are worth less than their mortgage balance

The Wall Street Journal recently posted an interactive map that shows the percentage of homes in counties across the nation that were worth less than what was owed on them during the first quarter of 2015. Here, we see that in Wayne County 28 percent of homes were worth less than the mortgage balance on them. In Oakland County that number was 13 percent and in Macomb County 17 percent of homes were worth less than what is owed on them.

NYT: Home-price growth driven by multiple economic factors

A recent graph produced by the New York Times shows that while home prices are bouncing back across the U.S. there are different factors driving those increased prices. For Detroit, the cost of purchasing a home is increasing by the lack of supply while in Grand Rapids price is being driven up because of demand. To see the full economics on the growth of home prices in metropolitan areas in Michigan and across the U.S. click here to see the NYT graph based off of a report by Fitch Ratings.

Retirement benefits lack funding compared to pensions in Southeastern Michigan

For majority of the states and local government entities across the country one of the most attractive pieces of their compensation packages has been the offering of retiree health care, dental and vision insurance after retirement and life insurance. These benefits are referred to as Other Post Employment Benefits (OPEB) and are not part of an employee’s pension fund. According to the International City/County Management Association (ICMA) OPEB packages have traditionally been generous (ie. Offering full medical insurance coverage after retirement) as a way to attract talent, since public sector salaries are typically lower than those in the private sector. While public employers (ie. state and local government agencies) have traditionally funded their pension obligations during the time in which employees are working, majority of OPEB funding isn’t paid for until after employees retire in a pay-as-you-go manner, according to Michigan State University-Extension. In 2007, the Governmental Accounting Standards Board required all U.S. municipalities to measure the OPEB percent funded and unfunded in their community, which had not been required before. Prior to this change, according to ICMA, most government entities had only incrementally calculated what was owed on an annual basis in context to their annual budget. This new accounting standard though forces government entities to examine what their OPEB costs will be over the long-term and how it will affect their budget, especially as the cost of medical care continues to rise. According to research conducted by Michigan State University-Extension, the burden to fund OPEBs has proven to be a financial stressor for many communities in Michigan, and beyond.

The maps below showcase survey data from the public-sector-financial-based website Munetrix.com; not all communities in Southeastern Michigan represented and only the data discussed below if representative of the communities’ whose information was made available on the website. According to available data, 99.7 percent had 80 percent or less of their OPEB liabilities funded in 2012 while 62 percent of communities with available 2012 pension funding data had 80 percent or less of their defined pensions funded. While there is no single number for whether an OPEB, or pension fund, is healthy or unhealthy there are frequent references in the accounting world that if such a fund is funded at 80 percent or higher it is considered healthy, according to a 2007 Government Accountability Office report. The lack of funding of OPEB obligations above 80 percent compared to pension funding above 80 percent is not unique to Southeastern Michigan, or the communities throughout the state, at all. Rather this is a growing problem communities across the country are trying deal with, according to Michigan State University-Extension.

As noted above, and as can be seen in the maps, more data was provided on pension funding than OPEB funding by Munetrix. Just as data lacks on OPEB funding so does the percent of such funded liabilities. In the region in 2012, according to the data presented, the city of Holly had the highest percent of OPEB funding at 121 percent; Macomb Township came in second to with62.9 percent. Several of the communities with information available had 0 percent of their OPEB liabilities funded. These communities were:

  •   Flat Rock
  •   Grosse Ile
  •   Grosse Pointe Woods
  •   Hamtramck
  •   Harper Woods
  •   Lincoln Park
  •   Clawson
  •   Memphis
  •   Fraser

For 2012, OPEB funding information was not available on the city of Detroit through Munetrix. However, through court documents related to the City of Detroit’s bankruptcy filing , in 2011 Detroit’s OPEB liability was 99.6 percent unfunded; the total OPEB liability at that time was $5.7 billion. Before bankruptcy proceedings were complete, the city had 22 different OPEB related plans, 15 of which were directly related to medical and prescription drug care. Since Detroit came out of bankruptcy its retiree healthcare benefits are funded through two Voluntary Employment Benefits Association trusts. In total, it is estimated these funds will have $450 million put into them to fund the city’s OPEB, according to the Detroit News.

Also when viewing the pension map we see that information for the city of Detroit was not provided for this as well. The city has two pension systems, the general employee pension system and the police and fire system. According to the bankruptcy documents, by the end of 2011 the city owed $1.7 billion to the general employee system and $1.6 billion to the police and fire system.

As Detroit exited bankruptcy in 2014, according to the New York Times, the general employee pension system was 74 percent funded and the fire and police system was 78 percent funded. From now through 2024 the city will not contribute to the pension fund from general fund dollars. Instead, revenues from the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department, settlement monies from general-obligation bondholders and donations from foundations and the state (as part of the “grand bargain“) will fund the pension system, according to the Detroit News.

When looking back at the communities that did have pension data available for 2012 we see that 38 of the 98 had their pension systems funded at 80 percent of above. Of those, the communities below had their pension systems funded above 100 percent:

  • Dearborn
  • Rockwood
  • Lima Township
  • Northfield Township
  • Marine City
  • Ferndale
  • Groveland Township
  • Royal Oak Charter Township
  • Erie Township
  • Brighton Township

Of the communities that had their pension liabilities funded below 80 percent in 2012, Lincoln Park had the lowest at 34.6 percent.

NYT: Transportation a key factor in escaping poverty

A recent article from The New York Times highlights a Harvard study that finds access to transportation is a strong factor in escaping poverty. According to the article, the link between transportation and social mobility is stronger than the relationship between social mobility and crime, education, or family makeup. To read more about this study click here for The New York Times article.