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Black Slate Digest

This is where we share our thoughts and encourage you to share yours. Ase`.

By Ashanti Kafi

I’ve noticed, as I’m sure you all have, There has been a lot of recent discussion about tax credits, tax abatement, and rebates given to corporations as it relates to redevelopment of the City of Detroit. Particularly in Downtown Detroit. And I began to ask myself “Do I really understand what this means?” “Is what’s happening good for the city and good for me, a single taxpayer?” So, I started to research to understand how it all works. This is not the most entertaining subject, but come to school with me. Here’s what I’ve learned.

Corporations pay taxes on commercial property that they own, the same as a homeowner pays taxes on their residential property. The difference however, is how those taxes are calculated. And how the municipality, in this case, the City of Detroit, uses that tax revenue.

I own my home in Detroit. My property taxes, like yours, if you own residential property, are primarily calculated using a formula that is based on market value and land use. We know this to be the assessed value. The assessed value is further calculated to get to a taxable value. The taxable value is multiplied by a Mill or a rate, which has been predetermined at the voting booth.

The formula for calculating taxes on a commercial property is based on future or projected income the property will generate.

For Instance, If I purchased a commercial storefront on Woodward. And I’ve projected that I would lease out that space for $7,000 per month or $84,000 per year. The property taxes that the City will make me pay would be based on that $84,000, in the assessment calculation. The assessed value is further calculated to get to a taxable value. The taxable value is multiplied by a Mill or a rate, which has been predetermined at the voting booth.

As voting citizens we’ve agreed that our tax revenue generated from the collection of taxes on real property will go to things such as state education, the general city fund, debt services, the library, school operating expenses, school debt, waste management (trash collection) and Wayne county.

Whereas, how tax revenue is generated and used from commercial properties, particularly commercial property development in Downtown Detroit is a little more complicated. The State of Michigan allows struggling cities to create governing bodies such as the Detroit Economic Growth Corporation (DEGC) and the Downtown Development Authority (DDA) which define how captured tax revenue is used to finance the redevelopment of a zoned area within its jurisdiction. In our case, Downtown Detroit.

These governing bodies have determined that most of the tax revenue generated from within these zones Downtown stays Downtown. They have also decided to use Tax Abatement and Tax Increment Financing (TIF) as strategies to draw commercial investors/developers to the City for the purpose of redeveloping Detroit.

Tax abatement is the process of eliminating, reducing, or postponing the payment of property taxes. While Tax Increment Financing is a financial strategy that gives tax money back to the investor or back to the zone using tax revenue generated from other sources.

We don’t want to persuade you in any direction on how to feel about what’s happening in our City. Simply to state facts. The redevelopment of our City has just been underway within the last 10-15 years. To get to where we are today, our elected officials have been crafty in how this redevelopment of our great city gets financed. Due to the size of our undevelopment, and the state of our neglected infrastructure and property supply, the cost to transform Detroit is enormous. Our Mayor and City Council have adopted the strategy of rebuilding our City from the Center out. Their approach delays the redevelopment of residential neighborhoods outside of the Downtown area. This delay affects the administration of our schools, the development of residential housing, mental assistance programs and the like.

But I see momentum happening beyond Downtown on the horizon. We’ll talk about those later as well as if tax credits are applied equitably.


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Citizens Weigh in on Reparations Quest in Detroit

By Makalani Hakizimana

The quest for reparations for the evils of slavery traces a wide arc starting in the 19th

Century all the way to today. Any dictionary will tell you that reparations means making

amends for a wrong and compensation for such. Union General William Tecumseh

Sherman began the attempt in 1865 during the Civil War with Special Field Order No.

15, approved by President Lincoln, which would have awarded 40 Acres and a Mule each

to 40,000 freed slaves, thus attempting to make amends for and compensate some

Africans in America for their wretched enslavement here. That attempt at reparations

went nowhere, as you know, because after Lincoln’s assassination, his successor, Andrew

Johnson, rescinded the plan. This first reparations proposal would conservatively be worth a total of $640 billion in today’s currency.

Fast forward more than a century later, the trajectory for reparations winds up in

Congress in 1989 with the introduction of House Bill H.R. 40. That bill led by the late

Congressman John Conyers is one to address the fundamental injustice, cruelty, and

brutality of slavery in the United States and the 13 colonies before it. This would be done

by creating a commission merely to consider a national apology and proposal for

reparations for slavery and the ensuing discrimination suffered by African Americans,

and then, significantly, make recommendations to Congress for appropriate remedies.

But H.R. 40 has been stalled for years in Congress, never even having made its way to a

president’s desk for signing into law.

For Detroiters, the arc of attempted reparations has landed here with the overwhelming

approval by voters in November 2021 of Proposal R, an initiative to establish a

reparations task force “to make recommendations for housing and economic development

programs that address historical discrimination against the Black community in Detroit.”

This reparations initiative was spearheaded some time ago by Detroit City Council

President Mary Sheffield; however, the task force, which is intended only to make

recommendations to the Detroit Council, has only recently been staffed by said body, if

only partially. Lauren Wood, Keith Williams, Rev. JoAnn Watson, and Dorian Tyus

have all been recently appointed by Council to the Reparations Task Force executive

committee, according to The Detroit News. More task force members are forthcoming.

But what do ordinary Black people think about reparations? To try to answer that

question, a small sample of Black Detroiters was interviewed. Mrs. Geneva Phillips, Ms.

Lisa Battle, and Mr. Nguvu Twalibu were each asked four questions dealing with the

general subject of reparations. Their answers did not jibe well with the prospects of the

Reparations Task Force in Detroit, but none said they were against the Task Force’s

mandate either.

Sample members were each asked first what their view on the need for reparations was.

Mrs. Phillips answered that all African-Americans have a need for reparations after

hundreds of years of slavery. Mr. Twalibu said, “What we need to do is have a

commission to do research on the federal level like H.R. 40 envisions.” Mr. Twalibu

added, moreover, that “Reparations are something you receive once you win a war. We

won’t win the battle for reparations until we win the struggle for Black liberation.” On

the question for the need for reparations, Ms. Battle was a little stumped. She said, “I

don’t know. There’s a need (for reparations) but I can’t elaborate now. I need to study

more.” The Detroit Task Force should be able to help citizens like her with that, as it is

charged with studying the plight of Black Detroiters historically discriminated against.

The second question that these Detroiters were asked was: Can any reparations bring

closure in your mind to the sins of slavery? Mrs. Phillips was emphatic and succinct with

a one-word answer, “No.” Mr. Twalibu said, “Reparations by itself can’t, but it will

help” as reparations are part of the healing process. Ms. Battle took a decidedly different

tone when she answered, “No, not at all,” to the question can reparations bring closure to

slavery’s sins; adding, “You can’t put a price on it (slavery). No money can pacify us for

the things our people went through.”

The answers to the next question don’t line up at all with the mandate of the Detroit

Reparations Task Force, which, again, is charged with studying and making

recommendations for housing and economic development programs that attempt to make

amends for historical discrimination of the Black community here.

Thus the third question asked of our sample of citizens was: What kind of reparations for

slavery would you like to see in Detroit and America? Mrs. Phillips said that her vision

for reparations in America should ideally be one of education – all education, public and

private, secondary and collegiate, should be free to all Black people. Mr. Twalibu

answered that “Once we win the struggle for liberation, I’d like to see land and industry

given as reparations in Detroit, America, and throughout the world so that Black people

can be self-determining.” Ms. Battle had a dark answer to what kind of reparations she

would like to see and said, “Can you let some of their people go through what we went

through.” The author suspects this answer is not an isolated one.

The final question asked of our citizen sample was: Do you envision any reparations for

slavery being made in the near-term, mid-term, or long-term in Detroit? Mrs. Phillips’

optimism was tamped down by the real world, saying, “Reparations will bear fruit only in

the long term, because too many white politicians will be against it.” Mr. Twalibu was

more hopeful, saying that the success of reparations in Detroit will be “an ongoing

process,” with success in the near-, mid-, and long-terms. Ms. Battle was pessimistic,

saying, “I don’t see it. Reparations will come in the long term at the earliest. We’ve been talking about this for a very long time.”

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Updated: Apr 6, 2023

If this is your first time with us, Welcome to the second edition of the Black Slate Digest. In this issue, we are asking questions and researching.

I picked this up somewhere along the way and I think its reflective of what I see happening in our Great City of Detroit. As citizens, as a collective people we are and must continue to ask ourselves the following; Who am I? Am I really what I say I am? Am I all I ought to be? What am I committed to?

The more we push this line of questioning, the better we'll all become.

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