Benson to Detroit: We need a landing zone for our growing middle class.

Jose King is experiencing a growing problem in Detroit, but it’s a good problem to have.

When city officials announced that a new automotive manufacturing plant would bring 500 jobs to Detroit’s east side, Jose – a Generation Z (twenty something) GED recipient from Detroit Public Schools Community District’s Adult Education East Campus (class of 2016) and former employee of Walmart – was one of the first to get a job.  His new position also included a 40 percent pay increase and a robust benefit package.

With his newfound prosperity, Jose immediately looked to improve his quality of life – by moving out of the city of Detroit. Right away, I started digging in my Detroit toolbox to help Jose find an affordable housing solution suitable for a new member of Detroit’s middle class.  The tool that I found is the Neighborhood Enterprise Zones Homestead (NEZh) program, which was established by Mayor Kilpatrick in the early 2000’s.  It was intended as a tool to keep our middle-class families in Detroit who were fleeing the city for the suburbs.

Authorized by the State, the NEZh allows cities to reduce their general operating and county tax rates by 50%, resulting in a reduction in the overall property tax bill of between 25% and 40%. This does not reduce the tax capture of any other taxing entities, i.e. DPSCD, library, museum, zoo, etc., but it does incentivize and reward people who purchase or have purchased homes after 1996 in select neighborhoods that meet the NEZh criteria and have been designated by the city.

City leaders are considering a plan to refresh the NEZh program by looking at all of the existing NEZh neighborhoods to see if some need to be removed from the program because they have achieved their goals or no longer meet the program’s guidelines. After the city’s review, new neighborhoods could be added to the NEZh list. This will be a challenging process, because residents who have grown accustomed to the housing incentive will worry that losing it will make their neighborhoods less attractive to middle-class homebuyers. Then residents in other neighborhoods will likely demand that they be added as a NEZh area even if they don’t meet the program guidelines.

While there will likely be changes to NEZh, existing NEZh residents should apply for the incentive by going to the Detroit Assessor’s office and submitting the required paperwork, which will make them eligible to receive the incentive for 15 years, even if their existing neighborhood loses its NEZh designation in the future.

The NEZh program helps bring housing and economic stability to Detroiters like Jose and qualifying neighborhoods in Detroit. Programs like the NEZh will help keep residents in our burgeoning middle class from moving to the suburbs when they get a better paying job.  This initiative ensures that residency has its privileges in Detroit, and it reinforces our commitment to making Detroit a true city of opportunity for all.


Councilman Scott Benson represents the 3rd District on the Detroit City Council and is Chairman of City Council’s Public Health and Safety Standing Committee and has over 20 years of community development experience on Detroit‘s eastside.  


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