Detroit Vacancies Decline Over Long-Term, Slow Uptick Recently in Numbers

New information on vacancies in Detroit provides a mixed picture. There were 1,490 fewer vacant Detroit properties of all kinds between September 2018 and September 2019, according to the U.S. Postal Service. However, between June 2019 and September 2019 the number of residential vacancies increased by 61 (discussed below). Overall in the month of September of 2019 there were 82,738 vacant addresses.

Although there was a decrease in the number of vacant addresses, the percentage of vacant addresses in Detroit has remained between 21 and 22 percent since June of 2011. Vacancy rates reached 20 percent in December of 2010. The peak vacancy rate in Detroit, according to U.S. Postal Service data, was in March of 2015 when it was 22.8 percent; at that time it was equivalent to 88,017 vacant addresses.

Looking backward, (we have USPS data back through 2005) the lowest vacancy rate in Detroit was in December of 2005. At that point, the rate was 10.03 percent, and that was equivalent to 38,981 vacant properties. So, overall we witnessed more than a doubling of vacancies with a gradual decline to 82,738 from a peak of 88,017.

When examining only residential vacancy rates that rate was 21.34 percent in September of 2019, which was equivalent to 74,818 vacant residential addresses. The residential vacancy rate between September of 2019 and 2018 decreased by less than 1 percent, and the total number decreased by 2,239 residential addresses. The five-year difference was a decrease of 7,230 residential vacancies. The highest residential vacancy rate was 23.5 percent in March of 2015; the lowest residential vacancy rate was in February of 2008 at 15.8 percent. Following the peak residential vacancy rate in 2015, those numbers have been on the decline.

In addition to these changes, in September of 2019 there was not a change in the number of “no stat” addresses–properties denoted by mail carriers as being either “vacant” or “no-stat.” In September of 2019 the percent of no-stat properties was 6.2 percent.  These no-stat properties are ones that carriers on urban routes mark as vacant once no resident has collected mail for 90 days. 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. So, urban addresses labeled are those a carrier deems as unlikely to be occupied again any time soon. That is, both areas where property is changing to other uses and areas of severe decline may have no-stat addresses.

The maps below demonstrate both the overall Detroit address vacancy rates (including residential and business vacancy rates) by Census Tract for September 2019 (first map) and the change in vacancy rates between September 2019 and September 2018 (second map). In total, there were about 65 Census Tracts in Detroit with total vacancy rates above 35 percent. The Census Tract with the highest vacancy rate in September of 2019 was located north of I-94, between there and I-96, with a rate of 55.8 percent. There were two large clusters of Census Tracts with vacancy rates above 35 percent, one cluster was located along I-96 south and west of the Davison Freeway, and the other was located on the eastside of the city along Gratiot Avenue.

While most of the Census Tracts in the City experienced a decrease in the number of vacancies from September 2018 to September 2019, there were about 40 tracts scattered all across the city that had an increase. The Census Tract with the highest increase was located on the City’s far west side and there was an increase of 7.2 percent. The tract with the largest vacancy rate decrease was located in Southwest Detroit and there was a decrease of 11.1 percent.

In addition to the U.S. Postal Service tracking vacancy data so does the U.S. Census Bureau. The chart below shows the differences that each agency reports in vacancy rates. The Census Bureau only tracks vacant houses while the U.S. Postal Service tracks residential properties, businesses and total vacancy rates. In the chart below only residential rates are examined. As the data shows, the Census regularly has higher residential vacancy rates as compared to the U.S. Postal Service. The most recent data for the Census data (2017) shows that the City’s residential vacancy rate was 29.2 percent and that was in 2017. The Postal Service’s equivalent rate was 22.4 percent at that time. The Census data is based on a sample of about 72,000 housing units. The U.S. Postal Service data is collected by postal service workers, if a residence is deemed occupied it means it requires mail service.  It is deemed vacant if it does not require mail service. One potential reason for the difference in vacancy rates is the fact that the Census data is based on samples while the U.S. Postal Service relies on postal carrier’s actual observations of the properties. 

Production of Solid Waste Rises in Michigan

The landfills in Michigan not only hold solid waste produced from Michigan residents, but also from other states and Canada. The first chart below shows how much solid waste has been disposed of in Michigan landfills between 2008 and 2019, total. Between 2009 and 2012 the amount of waste being disposed decreased from about 49 million cubic yards in 2009 to about 44 million cubic yards in 2012. From 2013 to 2018 though the amount of waste being disposed continuously increased. In 2013 there was about 44.5 million yards of cubic waste disposed of into Michigan landfills and by 2018 that number was about 52.5 million cubic yards.

When examining the three different sources that dispose of solid waste into Michigan landfills the data shows that waste from Canada had the largest decrease between 2009 and 2012, according to the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality. In 2009 9 million cubic yards were disposed of into Michigan landfills and 2012 that number was 6.5 cubic yards.  Between 2013 and 2018 though those numbers increased from about 7.5 million cubic yards to 9.5 cubic yards. For the amount of solid waste disposed of in Michigan from instate sources that number rose from about 35 million cubic yards in 2009 to about 40 million cubic yards. For solid waste disposal from other states that amount disposed of never increased above 2.9 million cubic yards between 2009 and 2018.

Overall, the amount of waste generated in Michigan continues to increase while import rates are decreasing, according to the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality.

The chart below shows the total waste disposed in Michigan landfills from each county in Southeastern Michigan. This chart does not necessarily reflect how much waste is disposed in each county, but rather how much waste comes from each county. Wayne County had the highest amount of waste disposal at more than 11 million cubic yards in 2018; this amount was more than twice the amount of any other county in the region. Oakland County had the second highest amount of waste disposed in 2018 at about 4.3 million cubic yards. Livingston County had the lowest amount of waste disposed at about 380,000 cubic yards.

Below is a list of the landfills in Southeastern Michigan and the amount and type of waste disposed in them in 2018. Municipal and Commercial Waste (MCW) was the most common type of waste disposed of in Southeastern Michigan landfills, followed by Industrial Waste (IW).

In Southeastern Michigan there are 13 different landfills, two of which only accept Industrial Waste. The two landfills that only accept Industrial Waste are Detroit Edison Ash Disposal in St. Clair County and the DTE Monroe Power Plant in Monroe County.

Pine Tree Acres, which is a landfill operated by Waste Management in Lenox Township (Macomb County) had the largest amount of waste disposed there in 2018 at nearly 5.1 million cubic yards. Carleton Farms Landfill in Sumpter Township (Wayne County) had the second largest amount of waste disposed there at about 4 million cubic yards.

The City of Livonia accepted the least amount of waste in 2018. According to the Department of Environmental Quality the City of Livonia landfill received 2,700 cubic yards of Municipal and Commercial Waste and 1.8 yards of Industrial Waste.

Overall this post was intended to highlight where waste in Michigan, and the region comes from, what regional counties are producing the most amount of solid waste and how the production of waste in the state continues to rise. Not only does this post shed light on the production of solid waste but it should also be a conversation starter for the need of increased recycling rates. According to the Environmental Protection Agency the recycling rate in Michigan is 15 percent; the national average is 35 percent. While bottle returns in Michigan are at about a 90 percent redemption rate, according to a 2018 Bridge Magazine article, other recyclable items are not returned at nearly such a high rate. There needs to be a mindset change in the State of Michigan, and digging deeper into the data could help facilitate successful public information campaigns.

Unfortunately, data on recycling is not nearly as detailed as the information the state produces on solid waste. For example, information on what communities offer curbside recycling is not readily available, and the last measurement report on recycling in the state was published in 2016, with data from 2014.

There needs to be more information on recycling in Michigan, and the amount of solid waste disposed of in Michigan’s landfills needs to be reduced. Although waste from other states and countries is imported to Michigan landfills, an action that should also be halted, it is the rate at which solid waste in Michigan is being produced and disposed of that is increasing the greatest problem. We need to see a substantial reduction in solid waste disposal, and a parallel increase increase in recycling.  

Breast Cancer in Southeastern Michigan

The month of October is Breast Awareness Month and in 2019, according to the Susan G. Komen Foundation, it is estimated that there will be 268,600 new cases of invasive breast cancer, nationally. In addition, the foundation estimates that there will about 42,000 deaths from breast cancer in 2019. Breast cancer affects both men and women, but occurs at a much higher rate in women. According to the Susan G. Komen Foundation, there is an estimated 129.8 new cases of invasive breast per 100,000 women each year and in men that number is 1.2 cases per 100,000 men. Additionally, the American Cancer Society estimates there will be more diagnoses of breast cancer in 2019 (9,310) than lung, colon, prostate, melanoma or bladder cancer. However, the American Cancer Society also estimates that lung, colon and pancreatic cancer have a higher mortality rate than female breast cancer.

The data shown in the maps below has been provided by the Michigan Department of Community Health and Services and was last updated in 2017. Additionally, the data focuses on women.  According to the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, breast cancer is the most common newly diagnosed cancer among women in Michigan. In 2017 there were about 8,160 new cases of invasive breast cancer in women in Michigan.

In 2017 St. Clair County had the highest rate of women with invasive breast cancer at 27.3 per 100,000 females, according to the Michigan Department of Community Health and Services. Wayne County had the second highest rate at 22 per 100,000 females and Oakland County had the lowest rate at 17.8 at 100,000 females. At the state level the rate for women with breast cancer was 19.2 in 2017. The only county below this rate in Southeastern Michigan was Oakland County.

Although not all women with breast cancer die from the disease, there are hundreds of deaths from the disease a year. In 2017 Wayne County had the highest number of deaths at 247 followed by Oakland County at 153 and Macomb County at 126. Regionally, Livingston County had the lowest number of deaths associated with invasive breast cancer at 18. These numbers are, generally, consistent with populations across these counties. In 2017 there was a total of 1,308 deaths associated with breast cancer across Michigan.

While breast cancer rates at the county level in Southeastern Michigan are are lower than those at the national level (129.8 cases per 100,000 women), it still causes significant number of deaths per year. Since the early 2000s the number of breast cancer deaths has declined, in large part due to increased mammogram screening. This month multiple health care organizations, such as Henry Ford, Beaumont and McLaren, are offering free mammograms to raise awareness and increase the chances of early detection. The risk of breast cancer increases with age, so as individuals grow older-particularly women- annual and regular testing becomes more and more important.

Prison Most Common Sentence for Felony Assaults

As part of the annual Michigan Department of Corrections report assaultive felony offensives are also examined to better understand what percentage of the  offenders are sentenced to either prison, jail, probation, community service or another combination. According to the data, prison sentences tended to be the most common. Monroe County had the highest percentage of felony assault offenders sentenced to prion at 39.6 percent. Wayne County had the second highest sentencing rate at 36.6 percent and Macomb County had the lowest rate at 27.5 percent.

For the jail category, St. Clair County had the highest sentencing rate for felony assault offenders at 38.8 percent; this was 10 percent higher than those in St. Clair County who were sentenced to prison for felony assault charges. Oakland County had the second highest at 23.3 percent. Wayne County had the lowest percentage of felony assault offenders sentenced to jail at 6 percent; the county with the second lowest sentencing rate was Monroe County at 11.7 percent.  

For a sentencing combination of jail and probation, Monroe County had the highest sentencing rate for felony assault offenders at 48.1 percent; Livingston County had the second highest rate at 44 percent. Wayne County was the only county in the region to have a jail and probation combination sentencing rate below 20 percent. According to the data, 15.1 percent of felony assault offenders in Wayne County were sentenced to a jail/probation combination.

Livingston, Monroe, Oakland and St. Clair counties all sentenced less than 5 percent of felony assault offenders to probation, with Monroe County having the lowest sentencing rate at 0.6 percent. Conversely, Wayne County had the highest probation sentencing rate at 42.3 percent, a trend we’ve seen throughout this series. Wayne County’s probation sentencing rate was nearly 20 percentage points higher than the county with the second highest rate (Washtenaw County had a rate at 24 percent).

No county in the region sentenced more than 2 percent of the felony assault offender population to community service, restitution, fines and/or costs.

Prison appears to be the most common sentencing type for felony assault offenders, except for Wayne County where nearly half the felony assault offender population was sentenced to probation.  

Jail, Probation Combination Most Common Sentence for Felony Drug Offenders

When examining only felony drug offenders as part of the 2017 Michigan Department of Corrections annual report, St. Clair County had highest percentage of individuals who were sentenced to prison at 19.5 percent. Monroe and Oakland counties were the only other two counties regionally to have more than 10 percent of felony drug offenders sentenced to prison in 2017. Monroe County had 13 percent of felony drug offenders sentenced to prison and Oakland County had 12 percent. Macomb County had the lowest percentage of felony drug offenders sentenced to prison at 3.6 percent. In Wayne County 5.7 percent of felony drug offenders were sentenced to prison.

For the jail category, St. Clair County again had the highest sentencing rate for felony drug offenders at 40.1 percent, with Washtenaw County having the second highest at 31.4 percent. Macomb and Oakland counties also had more than 20 percent of felony drug offenders sentenced to jail in 2017. Wayne County had the lowest percentage of offenders sentenced to jail at 14.6 percent. For the jail/probation category Wayne County also had the lowest percentage of felony drug offenders sentenced at 16 percent; Washtenaw County had the second lowest percentage of offenders sentenced at 31.4 percent. In contrast, Monroe County had the highest percentage of felony drug offenders sentenced to jail/probation at 71.9 percent.

Remaining in line with trends we’ve seen from Wayne County thus far in this series, of the felony drug offenders in Wayne County in 2017, 63.5 percent were sentenced to probation. Of all the sentencing options, this was clearly the most highly utilized for felony drug offenders in 2017. Macomb and Washtenaw counties both had 31 percent of its felony drug offenders sentenced to probation in 2017, nearly half of the percentage sentenced in Wayne County. Monroe County had the lowest percentage of felony drug offenders sentenced at 2 percent.

None of the counties in the region sentenced 1 percent or more of the felony drug offender population to community service, restitution, fines and costs.

As the data shows, jail/probation sentences tended to be the most common for felony drug offenders in Southeastern Michigan, with the exception of Wayne County, where just probation was the most common.

Local Road Taxes Help Support Southeastern Michigan Roads

The state of the roads in Michigan are well known to be largely in poor condition, and funding never seems to be at a point to allow for a total overhaul toward long-term improvement. Road funding in Michigan doesn’t come from one dedicated source. Rather, there is federal funding provided by the Federal Highway Administration Highway Trust Fund, state funding provided by state fuel taxes, vehicle registration fees, income taxes, additional appropriations decided on by the Legislature, and local funding provided by general tax revenue and additional road millages. This post shows the communities in Southeastern Michigan that have additional road millages to further improve the roads.

According to the data provided by the Michigan Department of Treasury, there are 73 communities in Southeastern Michigan that levy an additional tax to support road funding, along with two counties. These millages are intended to improve road funding. Of all the communities that levy a road millage, the City of Melvindale has the highest road levy at 6.7 mills, followed by the City of Grosse Pointe and the City of St. Clair which both levy 2.5 mills. The City of Sterling Heights levies the fourth highest amount in the region at 2.47.

Freedom Township and St. Clair County levy the lowest amounts at 0.25 mills each. The only other county in the region to levy a road tax is Washtenaw County which has a 0.49 millage.

Another item to note is that there are more townships levy road taxes than cities and villages. This is likely due to the fact that township roads are controlled by county road departments/commissions, meaning more competition for road dollars.

A mill is a $1 tax per $1,000 of assessed taxable value. For example, a homeowner with a house assessed at $200,000 (true value at $400,000) in a city that levies a 2.5 millage would pay an additional $250 in city taxes. Of course, how much money a community receives in total from a road millage will vary depending on the number of homes in a community along with the average home value of a community.

According to the Mackinac Center for Public Policy there is a strong correlation between improved road conditions and a road millage. According to the Center, 58 percent of roads in a city without a road millage are in poor condition. And, if a city has a road millage, each mill is correlated with a six-point reduction in the percentage of roads in poor condition. This is not necessarily true for villages, where 47 percent of roads in villages without a road millage are in poor condition. This differentiation could be due to the fact that villages typically have less taxable property value, meaning they would need a higher levy to get the dollars needed for more improvement.

Below is a map of communities in Southeastern Michigan that levy a road tax, along with lists to show what communities are making additional investments into their road infrastructure.

PFAS Regulations to Tighten in Michigan

Per-and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are synthetic chemicals (including PFOA and PFOS) found in everything from packaging to cookware. These chemicals are causing environmental and potential health problems, especially here in Michigan. To better track how these chemicals are affecting the environment and public health the Michigan PFAS Action Response Team was created to research, identify, recommend and implement actions to improve the PFAS situation in the State. Part of this research includes testing the waterways and the public water supply. The first map below shows the total PFAS found in treated public water samples throughout the State in 2018. Three counties in Michigan (Washtenaw, Muskegon and Allegan counties) had between 63-78 parts per trillion for PFAS tested in the public water supply. According to the Environmental Protection Agency the lifetime recommended advisory limit is 70 parts per trillion. In Kalamazoo County the amount of PFAS is far higher than the EPA’s recommended intake and any amount found in every other Michigan county. According to the State of Michigan, 5,955 parts per trillion of PFAS was found in Kalamazoo County. It is believed much of this contamination is from old paper mills in the area, a plastics company and a landfill; at least 115 wells and other sources for drinking water were tested.

The second map below shows the total PFAS found in raw water for public water supplies. For this measurement Kalamazoo County was in with the majority of Michigan’s 83 counties where 0-28 parts per trillion of PFAS was found. Of all the counties in the state, Kent County had the highest amount of PFAS found at 140 parts per trillion.  With the exception of the amount of PFAS found in Kalamazoo County’s treated drinking supply, in general, the amount of PFAS found in raw water testing samples was higher than those found in treated public water samples.


Overall, the maps above show that several counties in Michigan have high amounts of PFAS found in public drinking supplies, and in some cases above the EPA lifetime recommendation. As more information about PFAS is discovered that state needs to take actions to prevent further contamination of our water resources by implementing stricter standards. Just recently the Michigan PFAS Action Response Team proposed the lowest parts per trillion thresholds in water supplies in the county. These numbers, which vary depending on the specific PFAS, are still in draft form though and will likely not be formally recommended until October, with enforceable numbers being set by spring of 2020. Once formalized the contaminant levels would be enforceable under the Safe Drinking Water Act.

Great Lakes Continue to Rise

Water levels in the Great Lakes continue to rise as the rain continues to fall. According to U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, each of the Great Lakes had higher average water levels in the month of May in 2019 than the prior years. Each lake had water levels that were almost a foot higher than the previous year. Additionally, as of June 21, 2019 water levels throughout the Great Lakes continued to reach above average levels, increasing well beyond the May 2018 and May 2019 averages. Between May 2019 and June 21, 2019 water levels in Lake Superior have increased an additional 3 inches, which is the lowest increase of the five water basins the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers tracks as part of the Great Lakes. Lake Ontario experienced the highest increase between the May 2019 average and the recorded water levels on June 21, 2019; the increase in that time frame was 8 inches. Lake Michigan-Huron has had the second highest increase in the last few weeks at 7 inches.

The charts below further show that as of May, Lake Ontario experienced the highest average increase between May of 2018 and 2019 at about a foot and a half. Lake St. Clair’s average increased the least, but was still up 8.4 inches from the 2018 May average.

Such water levels are a result of above average rainfalls for 2019 and below average evaporation rates. For some perspective, as of June 1, 2019 there had been 1.57 inches of rain during the month, compared to 0.57 inches by the same time in 2018. Additionally, the average temperature for the month of June this year is about 68 degrees when last year the average temperature for June was about 72 degrees.

Weather models predict that cooler temperatures and increased amounts of precipitation will become more of the norm for Michigan, as a result of climate change. Such a long-term shift in the state’s climate not only affects water levels in the Great Lakes, but also farming throughout Michigan. This is a topic we will further explore in an upcoming post.

Global View: Southeastern Michigan Income Disparities Not So Vast

In Southeastern Michigan the range of median household incomes is vast. In Highland Park the median household income is about $16,000, and only 25 miles away the city of Bloomfield Hills has a median income of about $187,000. There are only three communities in Macomb, Oakland and Wayne counties that have a median household income above $152,000, and all three of those communities (Bloomfield Hills, Lake Angelus and Orchard Lake) are located in Oakland County. Conversely, there are about 25 communities in those three counties where the median income is less than $50,000, with most of those communities being located in Wayne County.


While the range of median incomes regionally is immense, the map below further shows just how wide that range is when looking at it from a national perspective. With a median income of about $187,000, the city of Bloomfield Hills ranks in the 90th percentile for median household income nationwide, as does the city of Lake Angelus ($166,000 median household income). Just a mere 25 miles away though, there are five cities with median household incomes that rank in only the 10th percentile nationwide. Those cities are:

  • Highland Park: $15,699
    • Ecorse: $23,556
    • Hamtramck: $24,369
    • Royal Oak Township: $26,406
    • Detroit: $27,838

A deeper look at the map below shows that most of Oakland County has households with median incomes in at least the 50th percentile nationwide. Macomb and Wayne counties are primarily made up of communities with median household incomes in the 30th and 40th percentiles nationwide.

When examining median household incomes in Southeastern Michigan through a global lens, the gap between communities like Highland Park and Bloomfield Hills does shrink. As shown in the map below, the city of Highland Park ranks in the 63rd global percentile for median household incomes and the city of Bloomfield Hills ranks in the 99th percentile. What this map shows is that on a global level, even our communities with the lowest median household incomes fare far better than many communities throughout the world.

According to the Washington Post, a $59,000 a year income ranks in the 40th national percentile but in the 91st percentile globally. About 70 percent of the U.S. population falls in the global middle class, which the Washington Post defines as being able to afford the basics (food, clothing and shelter) while also having some disposable income.

Southeastern Michigan County Roads Far Below Average

In 2018 not one county in Southeastern Michigan had at least 25 percent of its road pavement deemed to be in “good” condition, according to the Southeastern Michigan Council of Government (SEMCOG). Rather, the pendulum swung the other way, with each county having at least 33 percent of its road pavement deemed to be in “poor” condition.

The ratings-“good,” “fair,” and “poor”-are determined according to the Pavement Surface Evaluation and Rating (PASER) system, which are linked to the Michigan Transportation Asset Management Council’s best practices. For roads to be deemed in “good” condition they must be new, or like new, and only require regular maintenance. Roads that are considered “fair” have some signs of aging and require preventative maintenance such as crack sealing and overlay, which will extend the life of the road. “Poor” condition roads require some type of rehabilitation or reconstruction and are near the end of their life.

Regionally, St. Clair County has the largest percentage of road pavement deemed to be in “poor” condition at 54 percent. Oakland County has the next largest percentage of road pavement in “poor” condition at 49 percent. Monroe County has the lowest percentage of roads deemed to be in “poor” condition at 33 percent.

With Monroe County having the lowest percentage of roads in “poor” condition it also has the highest percentage of roads in “good” condition at 36 percent. Wayne County has the lowest percentage of roads in “good” condition at 15 percent. In addition to Wayne, Oakland and St. Clair counties have less than 20 percent of its road pavement in “good” condition (16 and 17 percent, respectively).


In the “fair” condition category, Wayne County has the highest percentage of roads in that condition at 39 percent. Washtenaw County has the lowest percentage of “fair” condition roads at 28 percent.

By now, it is common knowledge that Michigan’s roads need attention, and the funding to ensure the reconstruction and general maintenance of the roads needs to change from its current structure. Gov. Gretchen Whitmer recently proposed a 45 cent fuel tax hike, which is said to increase state road funding by $2.5 billion by 2021. Under this plan, the distribution of road funds (which is determined by Public Act 51) would slightly differ. Each county would still receive its normal share of the state’s current 26.3 cent per-gallon gas tax, but the additional gas tax increase would be distributed based on the use of roadways.  Currently in Michigan, counties receive 56 percent of their funding from vehicle fees, 24 percent based on the miles of county roads and the remaining 20 percent is based on other factors.

Whether Whitmer’s plan will be adopted remains in the air, but there seems to be general agreement that more funding is needed to fix the roads.