Monroe’s Water Lead Levels Highest in Southeastern Michigan

In 1991 the Lead and Copper Rule was implemented by U.S. Environmental Protection Agency as a means to help prevent exposure to lead and copper. According to the rule, if lead concentrations in drinking water exceed 15 parts per billion (ppb) in more than 10 percent of customer’s taps sampled, additional controls must be taken to prevent corrosion. According to a recent MLive article, which compiled Michigan Department of Environmental Quality lead testing data from water systems throughout the State of Michigan, the City of Monroe was the only public water system in Southeastern Michigan that had lead levels that reached the federal threshold. According to the data, which states testing ended on Dec. 31, 2016, the City of Monroe’s 90th percentile for lead was 15 ppb. For comparison, the data showed that between January and June of 2017 Flint’s 90th percentile for lead was 7 ppb.

In Southeastern Michigan, there were only three public water systems (for which data was available) with lead concentration levels above Flint’s. Those systems were located in:

  • Grosse Pointe Shores: 9 ppb
  • Capac: 7ppb
  • Marysville: 12 ppb

Conversely, there were 77 public water systems in Southeastern Michigan for which data was available, with zero lead tested in the water system.

While the data shows the lead levels are improving in Flint, this data also shows how the region’s, and the state’s, water systems need continuous monitoring and the infrastructure needs regular maintenance. According to a Brookings article (link), the federal government is only responsible for less than a quarter of the spending on all 51,000 plus public water systems in the country. This means, local and state governments must bare the brunt of the cost to ensure citizens have access to a clean, reliable water source. In Southeastern Michigan, a large portion of the region’s water system is overseen by the Great Lakes Water Authority. This government agency is regional authority that was created to ensure larger purchasing power is available for infrastructure improvements. This is one step the region has taken in recent years to ensure clean water remains available to the residents of Southeastern Michigan.

Wayne County Home to Region’s Oldest Homes

The majority of Southeastern Michigan’s oldest homes are located in Wayne County, with six of the communities in the county having more of than 50 percent of the housing stock built prior to 1950. These communities are: Detroit, Highland Park, Hamtramck, Grosse Pointe Farms, Grosse Pointe Park and Wyandotte. Of those communities, and regionally, Grosse Point Park had the highest percentage of homes built before 1950 at 77 percent, followed by Hamtramck at 70.4 percent. In Detroit, about 58 percent of the city’s housing stock was built before 1950. Majority of the homes in Detroit built before 1950 are located in Southwest Detroit, with pockets near the Highland Park and Hamtramck borders, or the central area of the city. Conversely, the area long Belle Isle/the West Village and the most northwest corner of Detroit have the lowest percentage of homes built prior to 1950.

Regionally, about 22 percent of Southeastern Michigan’s housing stock was built prior to 1950. Looking a decade ahead, Census data shows that about 41 percent of the region’s housing stock was built before 1960. In examining this map below, we see that the communities with the highest percentage of homes built before 1960 mainly grew around the city of Detroit into the southern borders of Macomb and Oakland counties, and just east of Detroit. Southern Macomb County experienced some of the largest growth between 1950 and 1959, according to the Census Data. During that time frame Eastpointe grew its housing stock by 48 percent, bringing the total percentage of homes built prior to 1960 to about 78 percent. The City of St. Clair Shores grew its housing stock by 51 percent between 1950 and 1959; the total percentage of this city’s housing stock built prior to 1960 is 66 percent. In Oakland County, the City of Oak Park grew its housing stock by 51.2 percent between 1950 and 1959, growing the percentage of its housing stock built prior to 1960 to 67 percent.

While the inner-ring Detroit suburbs began to grow during this time, the peak percentage of homes being built after 1950 was for cities like Detroit, Hamtramck and Grosse Pointe Farms. For the city of Hamtramck, majority of its housing stock was built before 1939; the same is true for the city of Grosse Pointe Farms.

In Detroit, 22.9 percent of its housing stock was built between 1950 and 1959, making about 80 percent of its housing stock being built before 1960. The decade in which plurality of Detroit’s housing stock was built was between 1940 and 1949; about 24 percent of the housing stock was built during the 1940s.

As noted, the percentage of homes built outside the city of Detroit truly began to ramp up after 1950; the Detroit map below shows a similar trend was also occurring in the city. In the 1950 Detroit map above the Census data shows that majority of the housing built in Detroit prior to 1950 was located in the southwest portion area of the city and the more central area. The 1960 map shows that the percentage of housing built in Detroit between 1950 and 1959 largely grew in the northern and northwestern parts of the City.

This post highlights that Detroit and its inner-ring suburbs have a large stock of aging homes that will require investments and stronger laws to remain safe and habitable. One recent example of this is how the Detroit City Council approved updating its property maintenance code. This code amendment now requires landlords to remove lead hazards from homes that they rent. Such actions are particularly important because, because homes built prior 1978 are particularly susceptible to hazards related to lead-based paint given that a ban didn’t exist until then.

Wayne County Top in the Region for Injury, Crash Rates for Pedestrian and Bicycle-Vehicle Crashes

This post presents the rate of injuries and fatalities for vehicle crashes involving pedestrians and bicycles in all counties throughout Southeastern Michigan in 2015, according to the Michigan State Police. The rates in this post were calculated per 100,000 residents.

Wayne County had the highest injury and total crash rates for both pedestrian-vehicle crashes and bicycle-vehicle crashes. In total, Wayne County had a pedestrian-vehicle injury rate of 37 and a total pedestrian-vehicle crash rate of 42. These rates represent a total of 667 pedestrian-vehicle injuries in 2015 in Wayne County and 749 total pedestrian-vehicle crashes in Wayne County in 2015, according to the Michigan State Police. When examining the rate for pedestrian-vehicle fatalities, Macomb County had the highest rate in the seven county region at 9. In Macomb County in 2015 there were a total of 15 fatalities involving a pedestrian and a vehicle. Wayne County had a total of 72 fatalities from the same type of vehicle accident; this was equivalent to a rate of 4. Livingston County had the lowest rate of fatalities and injuries, with rates of 0.5 and 9, respectively.




As noted earlier, Wayne County had the highest bicycle-vehicle injury rate in the region at 18.9 per 100,000 residents, with Washtenaw County only slightly behind at 18.4. When looking at the raw data though, there was a total of 336 bicycle-vehicle crashes in Wayne County, there was 72 in Washtenaw County. Monroe County had the highest bicycle-vehicle fatality rate at 1.3 per 100,000 residents with a total of 2 fatalities caused by such accidents in 2015. Washtenaw County came in just below Monroe County with a rate of 1.1 with a total of 4 bicycle-vehicle fatalities; there were also 4 bicycle-vehicle crash related fatalities in Oakland County in 2015 with a rate of 0.3. Livingston and St. Clair counties had zero related bicycle-vehicle related fatalities.

For the total crash bicycle-vehicle crash rates, Wayne County had the highest at 25 per 100,000 residents, with a total of 449 crashes. Livingston County had the lowest rate at 3 with a total of 6 bicycle-vehicle crashes.

Slide07 Slide08 Slide09

According to Smart Growth America, the Metro-Detroit area is ranked 17th of 104 nationwide metropolitan areas for most dangerous areas for pedestrians, due to the number of pedestrian deaths in the region between 2005-14. This study cited street design as one of the reasons for the total number of deaths. Additionally, the Macomb Daily recently cited distracted driving as a reason for the increased number of vehicle related fatalities, including pedestrian and bicycle related ones, over the last several years. This article said distracted driving included cell phone use and being under the influence of drugs and alcohol.

Where Did the RTA Fail in Southeastern Michigan?

In November 2016 the concept of regional transportation in Southeastern Michigan lost again. On the Nov. 8 ballot was a question asking residents of Macomb, Oakland Wayne (including Detroit) and Washtenaw counties if they would fund a 1.2 mill tax (about $120 a year for a homes with a taxable value of $100,000) for 20 years.

If passed, the millage would have created main transportation routes along Woodward, Gratiot and Michigan avenues (some of which would have eventually used Bus Rapid Transit), along with connector lines going east to west throughout Wayne, Oakland, Macomb and Washtenaw counties. However, only Wayne and Washtenaw counties supported the millage overall. In Oakland County the millage fell short of approval by 1,109 votes (50.1 percent of voters voted against it) and in Macomb County the measure failed with 60 percent of voters voting against it.


Currently in Southeastern Michigan, public transportation is fragmented, at best. Parts of Wayne, Oakland and Macomb counties are serviced by the Suburban Mobility Authority of Regional Transit (SMART), a transportation system that was created in 1967. However, in Oakland and Wayne counties communities can opt-out of the system, meaning they do not need to support its funding or have routes accessible in their community. Macomb County, through legislation passed by the County Board of Commissioners, is an entirely opt-in community. This means either the majority of the county supports SMART funding when it goes up for renewal and/or increases or it doesn’t; the county as a whole has historically supported SMART.

RTA Vote - Municipality Level - SMART Communities_Borders&Labels_JPEG

Despite Macomb County being completely opt-in for SMART, only one municipality supported the RTA millage in November; it was Mount Clemens-the county seat. According to the Macomb County Clerk’s Department 55 percent of voters in Mount Clemens supported the millage and 45 percent voted against it.

In Oakland County, 23 of the 51 municipalities in the region supported the RTA millage, with the inner-ring suburbs like Ferndale (72% yes), Pleasant Ridge (74% yes) and Huntington Woods (76% percent yes) showing the highest support. Unlike Macomb County, Oakland County is not an entirely “opt-in” community for SMART, meaning individual municipalities decide whether they want to fund/participate in the region’s current form of public transportation. Ferndale, Pleasant Ridge and Huntington Woods all opt-into SMART, as do some of the Oakland County communities that were just above 50 percent of voters supporting the RTA millage; these communities include Bloomfield Township and Birmingham. Troy and Bloomfield Hills are two communities in Oakland County though that participate in SMART but did not approve the RTA millage.

In Wayne County, where there are SMART routes and where the Detroit Department of Transportation (DDOT) operates, communities like Detroit, Hamtramck, Highland Park, Dearborn and Redford Township (which all participate in SMART) voted to approve the RTA millage. However, communities on the western side of the county and a majority of the downriver communities (despite some participating in SMART-like Trenton) did not approve of the transportation millage. Overall, 53 percent of Wayne County voters voted to approve the RTA millage.

Washtenaw County does not participate in SMART (the transit system is limited to Macomb, Oakland and Wayne counties) but it does have the Ann Arbor Transit Authority (AATA). Of those who voted on this measure, 53 percent supported the millage in the county. Overall, eight of the 27 communities in the county supported the millage. However, those with the highest populations (Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti) showed high support for the regional transportation tax.

Despite not having a long-term funding mechanism, the RTA currently operates RefleX, which is a supplemental ride system along Woodward and Gratiot avenues; these services did not eliminate any SMART or DDOT stops/lines. However, the RTA is only funded by the State through Sept. 30, 2017. After that though, its future is uncertain. With the regional transportation millage failing, the RTA is left without a solid funding source and cannot go to the voters with another tax proposal until 2018. According to Public Act 387 of 2012 (which created the RTA), the RTA can receive money through voter approved millage funding and/or an additional fee that may accompany state driver registration fees. Ballot initiatives can only be placed on ballots during presidential or gubernatorial elections.

Members of the RTA Board of Directors or Executive Staff have not publicly stated their future plans or ideas for funding mechanisms. While funding mechanisms would need to be identified, negotiating interlocal agreements between communities that want transit might be an incremental means of supplementing the fragmented systems currently in place. For example, there are no direct public transportation routes between Ann Arbor and Detroit[1] even though Ann Arbor, Detroit and DTW are the most desired routes, according to surveys. Both Wayne and Washtenaw Counties voted for the RTA, so it seems feasible that enterprising public officials in those two counties could negotiate an agreement to move forward on creating services, knowing both that their residents voted for services and that they want those routes.

[1] It might be possible for an ambitious soul to take a bus from Ann Arbor to the Detroit Metropolitan Airport (DTW) and then shift to a SMART bus and transfer to a DDOT bus into Detroit.
[1] It might be possible for an ambitious soul to take a bus from Ann Arbor to the Detroit Metropolitan Airport (DTW) and then shift to a SMART bus and transfer to a DDOT bus into Detroit.

Vacancy Rates in Detroit Remain Stagnant

In the City of Detroit in September 2016 the total percentage of vacancies was 21.9 percent, according to the U.S. Postal Service. This vacancy percentage was nearly unchanged from the 22 percent total vacancy rate the U.S. Postal Service reported in June of 2016. Similarly, when looking at the percentage of residential vacancies and business vacancies in the City these too nearly went unchanged between June and September. The U.S. Postal Service reports that the September 2016 residential vacancy rate was 22.4, down 0.1 percent. The September 2016 business vacancy rate was 25.9, up .02 percent from June.

Overall, in the month of September there were 87,762 reported total vacancies, 80,002 of which were residential, 7,670 of which were businesses and 104 of which were considered “other.” Between June and September, the total 0.1 percent vacancy decrease was equivalent to a decrease of 579 vacant addresses; there was a decrease of 641 vacant residential addresses and an increase of 62 vacant business addresses.

The first two maps below show, by Census Tract, the total number of vacancies and the total percentage of vacancies. The Census Tract with the highest number of total vacancies is on the east side, just north of Belle Isle. This Census Tract had 906 vacancies, which was 50.6 percent of the total number of structures in that Census Tract.

As the first map shows, majority of the Census Tracts with vacancies above 400 were located either on the cities east side, or just west of the downtown area of Detroit. When looking at the total percentage of vacancies in Detroit by Census Tract we see there is a slight shift in which Census Tracts have among the highest amount of vacancies in terms of percentage versus total numbers. This is directly related to the total number of structures in each Census Tract. For example, just east of Hamtramck there is a Census Tract with 229 vacant addresses, a number that does not put in amongst the Census Tracts with the highest vacancy numbers. However, these 229 vacant addresses in that Census Tract mean there is a 42.9 percent vacancy rate. Just south of that Census Tract is another where there are 307 vacancies which make up 18 percent of the structures there.



When comparing the total number of vacancies between September 2015 and 2016 we see that there are several Census Tracts that experienced an increase in the total number of vacancies. It was a Census Tract just north of Highland Park that experienced the greatest increase at 7.8 percent. Vacancy increases over the last year occurred the most on the City’s east side, however they were not isolated there.

Overall, while there were Census Tracts with vacancy rate increases there was a total decrease of 5,446 vacant addresses between September 2015 and September 2016.

In addition to these changes, in September of 2016 there was a decline in the number of “no stat” addresses; that number decreased by 2084 in the last year. 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, as are addresses for properties that are still under construction. Urban addresses are labeled as no-stat when the carrier decides it is unlikely to be occupied again any time soon — meaning that both areas where property is changing to other uses and areas of severe decline may have no-stat addresses.


Discrepancies Exist Between Detroit Demolitions and Vacancy Rates

Since January 1, 2014 the City of Detroit reports on its Demolition Program webpage that there have been 10,667 demolitions of vacant buildings as part of its blight removal program, as shown in the maps below. These demolitions were made possible through the Detroit Demolition Program, which receives federal funding to aid in the removal of blight. Just last week it was announced the U.S. Department of Treasury released an additional $42 million in funds to support the program. However, that funding, and the program, was suspended from August through just a few weeks ago while the U.S. Department of Treasury and the Michigan State Housing and Development Authority worked to create new guidelines for the demolition program. These guidelines create greater oversight by limiting the number of houses in a bid package, requiring more transparency in what subcontractors are used and having state employees working in the Detroit Land Bank and Building Authority offices, according to the Detroit News.

According to the City of Detroit’s demolition project page, there are 2,459 structures in the demolition pipeline, meaning they are scheduled to be demolished in the near future, and 3,096 that have already been demolished in 2016. The first two maps below show the 10,667 demolitions that have occurred in the City, by Census Tract, since January 1, 2014. The data used to create those two maps was provided from the City of Detroit’s Open Data Portal.

The third map shows vacancies in the City of Detroit, as reported by the U.S. Postal Service.




The first two maps above illustrate how certain areas of the City experience much lower rates of demolition than others. The third map shows what the vacancy rates were in the City of Detroit as of June 2016. In comparing the first two maps with the third we are able to identify discrepancies there are between where demolitions are occurring and where vacancy rates are the highest.

When examining the first two maps we see on the City’s northwest side (in the Evergreen/Rosedale area), within one Census Tract there were 295 demolitions between January 1, 2014 and October 13, 2016. The third map shows that as of June 2016 there was a 35.9 percent vacancy rate in that Census Tract, according to the U.S. Postal Service. There was only one other Census Tract in the City that had more than 200 demolitions. This Census Tract was located in the Cody/Rouge area on the west side of the City. This Census Tract had a vacancy rate of 37.5 percent in June of 2016, according to the U.S. Postal Service.

The Census Tract with the highest vacancy rate in June of 2016 is just east of Groesbeck Avenue (M-97); it had a vacancy rate of 50.3. However, according to the demolition data there have only been 15 demolitions in that Census Tract since January 1, 2014. Overall, this pocket of the City (northeastern area of the City along M-97) had vacancy rates ranging between 38 and 51 percent while the number of demolitions per Census Tract, in general, ranged between 15 and 54. There were exceptions, such as the two neighboring Census Tracts just east of I-94 where the vacancy rates were 33.6 percent and 31.6 percent and the number of demolitions in both areas were among the highest in the City, 147 and 145 respectively.

Areas in the City with among the lowest vacancy and demolition rates are Midtown, Downtown and Corktown. Also, Midtown and Downtown have some of the City’s newest housing units. Other areas in the City with the lowest demolition numbers are located on and around the Woodward Corridor, both north and south of Highland Park. The Palmer Park area, and the neighborhood to the west had several Census Tract where there were less than 10 demolitions in the time frame mapped. This area, in general, also had lower residential vacancy rates in June of 2016, ranging between 6 and 15 percent by Census Tract.

Near the Woodward Corridor though there are three Census Tracts, all of which border Highland Park, that had between 121-200 demolitions with vacancy rates for those three Census Tracts ranging between 20 and 35.

While a great deal of blight removal has already occurred in the City, there is still plenty of work to do. According to the City’s website, the goal is to remove 40,000 blighted properties within an eight year time frame. This post shows certain areas where there have been high rates of demolition in areas with high vacancy rates. However, this post also shows the opposite-Census Tracts with high vacancy rates and low demolition numbers. As the City moves forward with reaching is 40,000 structure demolition goal vacancy rates should continuously be monitored to help determine demolition priorities.

Monroe, St. Clair Counties Rank Highest for Green Infrastructure; Majority is Agricultural Land

In Southeastern Michigan there was about 180,000 acres of green infrastructure in 2014, according to the Southeastern Michigan Council of Governments (SEMCOG), and the regional planning agency is looking to improve and grow that number. This green infrastructure represents both natural ecosystems (wetlands, forests and parks), agricultural land and constructed versions, such as community gardens and bioswales. Both Monroe and St. Clair counties had the highest percentage of total green infrastructure in 2014 at 67 percent. Wayne County, both including and excluding Detroit, had the lowest percentage of green infrastructure. Excluding Detroit, Wayne County was made up of 32 percent of green infrastructure; including Detroit Wayne County was made up of 30 percent green infrastructure. In general, one can think of green infrastructure as the inverse of developed land, where houses, businesses, roads and other infrastructure exists.

Of this overall green infrastructure it is important to identify what it is comprised of. Below we will see how the tree canopy varies from county to county and how these variations are affected by the presence of parks and agricultural land.

The data provided for this post was found in SEMCOG’s 2014 Green Infrastructure Vision document.

Metro-Detroit Green Infrastructure

In total, Oakland County had the highest percentage of overall tree canopy at 44 percent; the county’s tree canopy made up 86 percent of its total green infrastructure. Oakland and Livingston counties were the only two in the region that had a tree canopy above the American Forest’s overall standard of 40 percent. The American Forest is the country’s oldest conservation non-profit, and SEMCOG bases its green infrastructure goals on their standards.

The county with the lowest overall tree canopy was Monroe; it had a tree canopy of 20 percent. This 20 percent of total tree canopy made up 28 percent of its total green infrastructure. This is largely because of the greater portion of land devoted to agriculture, as discussed below.

The city of Detroit had a total tree canopy of 16 percent, which is below American Forest’s standard for tree coverage in an urban area. Nevertheless this represents 85 percent of Detroit’s green infrastructure. American Forest calls for a 25 percent tree canopy coverage in an urban area. In a suburban residential the organization’s standard is 50 percent, and in a central business district that standard is 15 percent.

Metro-Detroit Tree Canopy

Metro-Detroit Tree Canopy and Green Infrastructure

While tree coverage is an important aspect of green infrastructure, it is not the only thing that can make a community “more green.” As discussed above, Monroe County had the highest percentage of overall green infrastructure yet the lowest percentage of tree canopy coverage. As shown below, this is, in part, because there was more than 123,000 acres of agricultural land in Monroe County in 2014. Monroe County had the highest amount of agricultural land in 2014 in the region followed by St. Clair County, which had about 107,000 acres of agricultural land. St. Clair County, like Monroe County, was made up of 67 percent green infrastructure. According to SEMCOG, Monroe County ranks seventh in the state in the total number of acres of vegetables (6,707) and corn, soy and wheat (169,792). St. Clair County ranked sixth in the state in the number of farms producing organic products and eighth in state for the total number of acres of soybeans it produced in 2014 (64,224).

According to SEMCOG, agricultural land is defined as “rural land used with the growing of food as the primary function, but can also provide ecological benefits.” SEMCOG classified Detroit as having 0 acres of agriculture, but this does not include the number of community gardens, which have been growing in the city through individual and organizational efforts.

While Detroit had 0 acres of agriculture land, Wayne County had 8,726 acres of agricultural land, which was the smallest amount in the region.

Metro-Detroit Agriculture Land

For total acreage of agricultural land in the region, Oakland County had amongst the smallest amount of coverage in the region but for wetland coverage it had the greatest amount. Oakland County had 77,000 acres of wetland in 2014. St. Clair (62,000 acres), Livingston (60,000) and Washtenaw (53,000) counties all had more wetland coverage than Wayne County. However, the 41,900 acres of wetland coverage in Wayne County was nearly five times the amount of agricultural land in the county. Additionally, of those 41,900 acres, 100 were located in Detroit.

Monroe County had the least amount of wetland coverage at 20,000, which is about 100,000 less acreage than it had of agricultural land.

Metro-Detroit Wetlands

Another factor into the total amount of green infrastructure present in a county is park land, which includes city, country, metro and state parks. Oakland County had the highest amount of park acreage at 61,053. Oakland County is home to five state park/recreation areas, three metroparks, 13 county parks and numerous local parks at the municipal level. Washtenaw County had the second highest acreage of park coverage at 33,499 acres, which was nearly half of Oakland County’s coverage. Like Oakland County, Washtenaw County is home to three metroparks and 13 county parks. Washtenaw County also has 20 nature preserves, numerous parks at the local level and nine state park/recreation areas.

Wayne County had about 26,000 acres of total park acreage, about 5,000 of which was located in Detroit. Belle Isle made up nearly a fifth of Detroit’s park acreage; it is 982 acres.

Metro-Detroit Parks

The amount of green infrastructure established in a community and a region is important because it can not only serve as a catalyst for economic growth but also because it serves as the base for ensuring citizens have access to clean water and air, fresh food and amenities that promote healthy and sustainable lifestyles. There is a recognition that additional green infrastructure is needed in Southeastern Michigan, which is why SEMCOG has created a green infrastructure vision. This vision aims to benchmark the current green infrastructure in the region and then identify policies that will allow for stronger and more connected infrastructure networks, more accessibility and cleaner air and water quality.

Southeastern Michigan Anticipating Water Rate Increases

With the proposed wholesale water rate changes for the newly formed Great Lakes Water Authority (GLWA)-which now provides water and sewer services to 127 former Detroit Water and Sewer Department (DWSD) customers-only one of the 89 tri-county customers is expected to experience a rate decrease above 10 percent. That community is the city of Novi and the anticipated decrease between 2016 and 2017 is 23.7 percent. The only other government entities expected to experience a decrease are Bruce Township, the city of Warren and the Southern Oakland County Water Authority (which is made up of Royal Oak, Berkley, Clawson, Huntington Woods, Pleasant Ridge, Southfield, Beverly Hills, Lathrup Village, and Bingham Farms). The reason for Novi’s expected wholesale water rate decrease is because of a water reservoir that went online in the city in July of 2015. This reservoir allows the city to hold up to 1.5 million gallons of water; it is filled nightly when demand and costs are lower and discharged at peak hours during the day, according to the Hometown Life article.

While wholesale rate decreases are expected to occur for a select few communities, wholesale rate increases are anticipated to be the norm for the region. The overall average wholesale rate increase for the region is expected to be about 6.1 percent, but Royal Oak Township’s expected increase is estimated to be about 20 percent. New Haven and Romeo were the only other two government entities in the GLWA that are expected to experience a wholesale water rate increase above 10 percent. New Haven is expected to experience an increase of about 14 percent, and Romeo is expected to have an increase of about 12 percent.

Charges for water service are a combination of a monthly fixed cost (which are associated with infrastructure costs) and metered usage. According to an interview the Detroit News held with the GLWA, monthly fixed costs make up about 60 percent of what the GLWA charges a community, and the remainder is metered usage. At the time of this post it is unclear why fixed costs vary so vastly from one government entity to another. However, this is a question Drawing Detroit will be further investigating.


GLWA Rate Change

While both Novi and Bruce Township are expected to have wholesale rate decreases, they are two of 22 communities in the GLWA that had 2016 commodity costs above $10 per million cubic feet (mcf). Bruce Township had the highest commodity price per mcf of all the GLWA customers at $22.82 per mcf. Additionally, the township’s fixed wholesale monthly cost was $2,200 in 2016. In 2017 that fixed monthly cost is expected to increase to $2,300, and the commodity price is expected to be $21.44 per mcf. This represents a 6 percent wholesale rate decrease. For Novi, the 2016 cost per mcf is $16.99 with a fixed monthly cost of $560,000; for 2017 those numbers are expected to decrease to $12.96 per mcf and $475,000, respectively.

Royal Oak Township, which is expecting a 20 percent rate increase, has a current commodity cost per mcf of $6.85 and a fixed monthly cost of $10,300. Those numbers are expected to be $8.23 per mcf and $12,400, respectively.

As noted throughout this post, the 2017 rates and costs discussed here are expected; the GLWA has yet to vote on the regional rates and costs. The vote is expected to come in the coming weeks though so the wholesale rates and fixed costs can become effective on July 1, 2016. The proposed figures used for this post were made public by the GLWA in March of 2016.

Additionally, while wholesale rates were discussed in this post, each individual community has the opportunity to set water rates above the wholesale rates set by the GLWA. These rates are known as the retail rates and are ultimately what the customers pay.

GLWA Commodity Costs

GLWA Fixed Costs

The city of Detroit was not included in this post because when the GLWA was formed the city of Detroit was able to maintain operations of its water and sewer infrastructure. DWSD still legally owns the water and sewer infrastructure it used to service the now GLWA members with, but the creation of this regional authority allows the GLWA to lease water and sewer infrastructure from the city of Detroit for 40 years at a cost of $50 million a year.

U.S. Postal Service: Detroit Vacancy Rates Drop by 2,500 between 2014 and 2015

There were 2,540 fewer vacant Detroit residential properties between December 2014 and December 2015, according to the U.S. Postal Service. Between September 2015 and December 2015 the number of residential vacancies decreased by 896. Overall in the month of December of 2015 there were 80,077 vacant residential addresses, which is equivalent to a 22.4 percent residential vacancy rate, according to the U.S. Postal Service. Also for December 2015 the total number of residential addresses decreased by 905 from December 2014 and by 1,163 from September 2015.

In addition to a decrease in the number of vacant addresses in the city of Detroit in December of 2015 there was also a decline in the number of “no stat” addresses; that number decreased by 786. 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.





Part III: Metro-Detroit Region Working Toward Wide Spread Transit

In our last two posts we discussed several regional authorities that governments and voters in Southeast Michigan have approved, especially in the wake of Detroit’s financial problems. In this post, we will consider regional efforts to coordinate and fund mass transportation in the area. Transportation planning in Metro-Detroit has long been a fragmented issue. Currently, the Regional Transportation Authority (RTA), which was created through Public Act 387 of 2012, is placing the finishing touches on its Regional Master Plan. This plan is to include main transportation routes along Woodward, Gratiot and Michigan avenues, along with connector lines going east to west throughout Wayne, Oakland, Macomb and Washtenaw counties. It is these four counties that the RTA encompasses and, in order to have sufficient funding for a robust regional transportation system, the RTA is expected to put a ballot initiative before the voters of these four counties (Detroit included) asking for a yet-to-be-determined amount of funding through a millage. According to Public Act 387 of 2012, the RTA can receive money through voter approved millage funding and/or an additional fee that may accompany state driver registration fees. Ballot initiatives can only be placed on ballots during presidential or gubernatorial elections.

Decisions on how and when to seek public funding are made through the RTA’s Board of Directors. This is a 10-member Board, with each Board member serving three-year terms. The County Executives of Wayne, Oakland and Macomb counties each appoint two board members, the Chair of the Washtenaw County Board of Commissioners appoints two members, the Mayor of Detroit appoints one member and the Governor appoints one member. The Governor’s appointee serves as chair but does not vote, according to the RTA’s website.

Prior to the establishment of the RTA, the Suburban Mobility Authority for Regional Transit (SMART) was created in 1967, and it still operates in portions of Wayne, Oakland and Macomb counties. Up until recently, SMART did not coordinate with the Detroit Department of Transportation (DDOT), and because of the way SMART initiatives can be placed on the county ballots (by individual counties), Macomb County is the only county in which all communities support the suburban transit authority and are all thereby affected by the authority’s ballot initiatives. In Oakland and Wayne counties, communities have the option to “opt-out” of supporting the authority.

The percentage of opt-out communities as of February 2015 was as follows:

  • Wayne County: 38.6%
  • Oakland County: 57.6%
  • Macomb County: 0%



Most recently, the County Board of Commissioners in Wayne, Oakland and Macomb counties placed a 4-year 1 mill request for the Suburban Mobility Authority for Regional Transit (SMART) on the ballot in August of 2014. The 1 mill request, which included an increase from the original 0.59 mills, was approved throughout the tri-county region as follows:

  • Wayne County: 63.45% yes
  • Oakland County: 73.6% yes
  • Macomb County: 59.6% yes


While SMART, RTA, DDOT and the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority (AATA) are now expected to coordinate with one another, it has taken about 100 years for the region to develop even a semblance of a coordinated regional transit system.


Starting with streetcars in the early 1900s, Southeastern Michigan once had the largest transportation system in the country, according to Tobi Voigt of the Detroit Historical Society in a 2015 Detroit Free Press article. Although the streetcars were once nearly all privately owned, in 1922 the voters of Detroit voted to buy the streetcars, lines and all other materials that made them operational at a cost of $19.8 million. Having bought an aging system, and then with the Great Depression and World War II, the once vibrant streetcar system could no longer be maintained with the funds the city had. The aging infrastructure, however, did not deter people from using the system. According to Voigt, during World War II ridership actually doubled because of widespread difficulty in obtaining gas, tires and vehicles during World War II.


While World War II meant increased ridership, post-World War II meant the beginning of a more developed highway system and more wealth to afford vehicles. These societal changes lead to the retirement of Detroit’s last streetcar on April 8, 1956.


Following streetcars came busses, a mode of transportation still used today. Similar to today’s operations, the DDOT (formerly the Detroit Department of Street Railways) attempted to coordinate with a regional entity—then called the Southeastern Michigan Transportation Authority (SEMTA). Created by the Michigan Legislature in 1967, SEMTA was intended to provide service to the seven county region. However, SEMTA did not have the authority to ask voters for operating funds. This, combined with decreasing ridership and President Ronald Reagan’s decision to cut federal funding to regional transit authorities in 1985, caused SEMTA to cut down to bare bones operations. By 1989, SEMTA became SMART, an authority with the power to seek millage funding.


With its 2012 creation, the RTA is now the entity charged with coordinating and planning for public transportation in Wayne, Oakland, Macomb and Washtenaw counties; applying for state and federal transportation dollars; and dispersing those dollars to the appropriate entities.


Despite the RTA’s status as the “official” regional transportation authority, collaboration between it, SMART, DDOT and the AATA is expected to take place so truly robust, connected and coordinated system can exist.


Regionalism never strongly existed in the Metro-Detroit area until the financial downfall of Detroit began, and even though we are now seeing a surge in regional coordination, the coordination between those regional entities remains fragmented.