Municipalities Embracing Programs to Combat Climate Change

The impacts of climate change are growing every year, and while those impacts vary by location, they are evident and growing. As individuals we directly impact climate change through our behaviors, for better or worse, and while personal actions can bring great change, governmental policies and programs can have lasting effects. We often hear about the climate action policies and programs set forth by the federal and state government, but local governments are stepping forward to combat climate change as well. Through the creation of sustainability offices and positions, the implementation of climate action plans, the building of climate resiliency hubs, and more, local governments throughout Michigan are stepping up to improve their residents’ quality of life.

Some noteworthy examples of local government sustainability practices and programs include:

Ann Arbor: In 2022 a 20-year, 1 mill climate-action tax proposal was approved by voters to provide funds for the city to investment in renewable energy and other initiatives that will allow Ann Arbor to reach carbon-neutrality, or the A2Zero goal, by 2030. The millage revenue will fund programs and services that will include rebates for households and businesses to use solar or geothermal energy and make energy-efficiency upgrades, the growth of accessibility of electric vehicle chargers, the creation of rain gardens, more tree plantings and increases in recycling, composting, pedestrian/cycling infrastructure and more. In addition to having community support for climate action programs, Ann Arbor also has a Sustainability Office dedicated to the sense of urgency required to combat and alleviate the impacts of climate change. The work of this office is guided by the Ann Arbor Carbon Neutrality Plan: A2ZERO. Ann Arbor’s commitment to carbon neutrality is clear, not only through its adopted policies but also through its funding allocations. From staffing to a contract selection process that prioritizes outside organizations with sustainability practices, Ann Arbor’s commitment to improving the environment, and lives, through sustainable practices is clear.

Detroit: The state’s largest city has a Sustainability Office with the mission of leading initiatives that reduce emissions, increase resiliency and improve residents’ quality of life. This office carries out items from the City’s Climate Action Agenda and Strategy, administrates Detroit’s Solar Neighborhood Initiative and aims to reduce waste and accelerate energy efficiency in Detroit. The Solar Neighborhood Initiative is one of the many programs being implemented to combat climate change. This program aims to turn 250 acres of vacant land in the city into solar energy centers that will generate enough clean energy to offset the electricity used currently by 127 city buildings. The locations will be selected in early 2024.

Additionally, Detroit just opened its first Resilience Hub at AB Ford Park called the Lenox Center, which is located on the city’s east side near the Detroit River. The Lenox Center is one of three resilience centers being brought to the eastside of Detroit through the Resilient Eastside Initiative. The other two are the Eastside Community Network’s headquarters at Stoudamire Wellness Hub near Conner and Warren, and Brilliant Detroit’s literacy center in the Chandler Park neighborhood. The Resilient Eastside Initiative is a collaborative effort between the Eastside Community Network (ECN), the City of Detroit, Brilliant Detroit, and Elevate, a nonprofit based in Chicago. Resilience hubs were built to be able withstand many of the impacts of climate change, serve as centers for emergency management, reduce carbon pollution and bring a community together regularly.

Macomb County: Through the Resilient Macomb project, a land use and community development project focused on the natural resources in Harrison and Chesterfield townships, New Baltimore and St. Clair Shores (all along Lake St. Clair), management of the areas climate variability and its impacts were studied. This project focused on the coastal issues of the area (flooding, water quality) and how they can be addressed while improving the economic opportunities in the area. This study/report was developed by the Land Information Access Association (LIAA), a nonprofit community service and planning organization headquartered in Traverse City, Michigan, and is now in the process of being implemented.

Monroe County: The Resilient Monroe was sponsored by the City of Monroe, Frenchtown Charter Township and Monroe Charter Township and resulted in a Resilient Monroe Resource Atlas. This atlas provides several recommendations focused on increasing use of multi-modal transportation, supporting local agriculture and buying from such producers, and protecting water systems. The document also focuses on growing the area’s economy while understanding the changing environment. 

While these are some notable programs and policies in place by local government entities to combat climate change and promote sustainability, many others are also doing what they can. For example, the City of Ferndale has a sustainability coordinator and office that focuses on programs such as their Waste Reduction and Recycling Master Plan and their Greenhouse Gas Inventory Report. Cities throughout the state are installing rain gardens to help prevent flooding and promote natural landscaping. Sustainability citizen groups administrated by municipalities, all with the goal of bringing buy-in to sustainable practices, also occur throughout the state. Regional organizations, such as the Southeastern Michigan Council of Governments and the Michigan Municipal League host seminars, pull together municipal leaders for greater thought power and create programs all aimed reducing the impacts of climate change and increasing resiliency.

To witness such steps occurring beyond the state and federal levels is inspiring, but remaining committed to the implementation is key, as is weaving the principles of sustainability into all goals, policies and programs. As has already been shown, climate change is impacting Southeast Michigan through more heat waves, flooding and extreme precipitation events. To combat these impacts, and the impacts of our actions at a global scale, both large and small changes in how we conduct our lives-from grocery shopping to the work we perform to how obtain our energy and beyond-must be altered, with the goals being centered around carbon neutrality and sustainability. The programs and policies discussed in this post can serve as guide posts for all municipalities to explore and tailor to their communities’ makeup and needs.

Ann Arbor’s renter occupancy rate is highest in the region

Renter-occupancy in the Southeast Michigan makes up only about a quarter of the region’s housing tenure rates, according to the 2013 American Survey. The majority of municipalities in the region had fewer than 20 percent of residents residing in a rental property. However, there were several cities near Detroit with renter occupancy rates above 35 percent. Washtenaw County had the highest overall renter occupancy rate at 39.2 percent probably because of the number of students attending universities there; Wayne County came in second to that at 35.2 percent.

As defined by the American Community Survey, residency is defined as where an individual was staying at the time of the survey, so long as they were, or intended to be there, for two months or longer.

According to the Joint Center for Housing Studies of Harvard University (JCHS) renting has been an increasing nationally. For example, in 2013 about 43 million households (or more than 35 percent of the all U.S. households) rented rather than owned a home. JCHS attributed the changing homeownership rates largely to the Great Recession. JCHS suggested that following 2008, homeownership was perceived as more risky as people witnessed the large wave of foreclosures that occurred, the drop in home values, and the costs of relocating in order to find better and more stable employment. The freedom renting provides, particularly for millennials, was noted as another reason why the rental market is growing. For these reasons, as well as the expected increase of immigrants coming to the U.S., over the next 10 years, JCHS predicted that the number of renter households will increase by up to 4.7 million by 2023.


Although renting is growing nationally, the JCHS states that rates are higher in central cities where land prices are high and r pool is made up of those whose incomes are below $30,000. In terms of age, the JCHS said low income housing is centralized. The Joint Center said more millennials tend to rent compared to older generations, such as the baby boomers.

In the seven counties of Southeastern Michigan, 26.6 percent of households were renter occupied in 2013. Among municipalities, Detroit was a hub for rental occupancy in the region: 48.1% of households being renter occupied. There were also pockets of high rental residency outside the city. Many of those locations border the city of Detroit. For example, Ferndale had a renter occupancy rate of 37.9 percent, Hazel Park’s rate was 40.9 percent, and the city of River Rouge’s was 43.5 percent.

Pontiac, the county seat of Oakland County, had a renter occupancy rate of 51.0 percent, a rate higher than Detroit’s. As noted earlier, millennials and those with incomes below $30,000 a year are more likely to rent. The median age in Pontiac in 2013 was 33.5 years and the median household income was $27,528.

The city of Ann Arbor’s renter occupancy rate was 54.3 percent, also above Detroit’s rate. While Ann Arbor’s median income in 2013 was $55,003, it is home to the University of Michigan, which has a student population of about 43,000. A median age of 27.5 and the large student population better explains the high rental occupancy rate there.

Other pockets of high rental occupancy rates were along the I-275 corridor, near Port Huron in St. Clair County and along Lake Erie and the western border of Monroe County.

The city of Detroit had one of the highest rates of renter occupied households in the seven county region at 48.1 percent. There were only eight census tracts in the city where 20 percent or fewer of the homes were not renter occupied. The areas in the city with the highest renter occupied rate were the downtown area, Midtown (where Wayne State University is located), and the Jefferson East area. Additionally, the median income in Detroit was $26,325 in 2013 and the median age was 34.9.

As one of the many efforts to revitalize Detroit, companies and organizations such as Wayne State University, the Detroit Medical Center, Henry Ford Health Systems and Quicken Loans have offered employees monetary incentives to live in the city of Detroit. These incentives are offered through the Live Midtown and the Detroit Live Downtown programs and could also be seen as a reason why the rental rate is what it is in Detroit. In addition to city’s median income and age showing a link to the JCHS’ explanation for high rental rates, we also know that certain areas in Detroit (such as Midtown and Downtown) are becoming more attractive to people because of the night life, creative outlets, parks and proximity to sporting and entertainment events.

Washtenaw County has highest percentage of foreign-born residents

The U.S. Census Bureau defines a foreign-born person as “anyone who was not a U.S. citizen at birth. This includes respondents who indicated they were a U.S. citizen by naturalization or not a U.S. citizen. Persons born abroad of American parents or born in Puerto Rico or other U.S. Island Areas are not considered foreign born.”

In 2012, 12.9 percent of the U.S. population was foreign-born and 6 percent of Michigan’s population was foreign-born, according to American Community Survey. While no county in Southeast Michigan had a higher percentage of foreign-born residents than the entire United States overall, four of the seven counties in the region did have a higher foreign-born population percentage than Michigan.

We saw in a previous post that Oakland County had the highest percentage of refugee residents in the region in 2012. This post shows that Washtenaw County had the highest percentage of foreign-born residents in that same year.


As noted, Washtenaw County had the highest percentage of foreign-born residents in 2012. During that time, 11.4 percent of Washtenaw County’s population was made up of foreign-born residents. Oakland and Macomb counties, which had the largest refugee populations, were the only other counties in the region where more than 10 percent of the population was made of foreign-born residents. In Oakland County, 11.2 percent of the population was foreign-born and in Macomb County 10 percent of the population was foreign-born.

Monroe County had the lowest percentage of foreign-born residents at 2 percent.


We see above that much of the foreign-born population in Washtenaw County resided in and around Ann Arbor.  Within Ann Arbor and portions of Scio, Pittsfield and Ypsilaniti we see that the foreign-born population made up 20 percent or more of the population. Throughout the rest of the county though, particularly the west side, the foreign-born population made up less than 5 percent of the population.


Wayne County, which had a foreign-born population of 7.7 percent, had both the municipality with the highest percentage of foreign-born residents and the lowest. The foreign-born population in Hamtramck made up 43.1 percent of the city’s population. Highland Park’s population was only made up of .4 percent of foreign-born residents.

Other municipalities throughout the tri-county region where more than 4 percent of the population was foreign-born were: Detroit (Wayne), Dearborn (Wayne), West Bloomfield (Oakland), Troy (Oakland) and Sterling Heights (Macomb).


In Detroit, where 5.1 percent of the population was foreign-born, the majority of these residents resided in and around Southwest Detroit. In Southwest Detroit, that neighborhood’s population was 47 percent foreign-born. Springwells, West Riverfront, Vernor, Chadsey, Hubbard, and Boynton were other Detroit neighborhoods where 20 percent of more of the population was foreign-born. As we learned in a previous post, much of the foreign-born people living in this area of Detroit are of Hispanic descent.