Doubling-Up: A Strategy of Urban Reciprocity to Avoid Homelessness in Detroit
M. Rory Bolger
Bolger explores the housing consequences of the decline in Detroit's auto industry. His analysis reveals a reliance on the extended family and the reciprocal exchanges within it, especially on a neighborhood level. Bolger's homeless gain resources from families and friends, from the underground economy, and from begging, borrowing, and stealing. Bolger recommends increasing federal subsidies for jobs and job training, and the construction of more subsidized, low-income housing.
Today there are more poor people in Detroit than in the 1970s. The median household income fell from $18,333 in 1974 to $13,455 in 1985, and the median rent rose from $333 in 1974 to $365 in 1985, as adjusted for inflation. 1 The total number of housing units declined dramatically ( Lynch and Leonard 1991:17), and there were fewer affordable housing units. Figure 3.1 shows the loss of housing between 1940 and 1990 in the working-class community known as Jefferson-Chalmers, in which my research was carried out. My substantive focus is homelessness viewed within the context of Detroit's experience of the urban crisis from the 1970s into the 1990s. Homelessness is now conspicuous in a city formerly known for high blue-collar wages, individual home ownership, and widespread housing availability. What happened in Detroit, and why? How do those at risk of homelessness respond to these changes?
Lynch and Leonard conclude that "although the affordable housing crisis is national in scope, it is particularly severe in the Detroit Metropolitan area" ( 1991:xii). While 62 percent of poor renters nationwide spent at least half their income on housing in 1985, 80 percent of the poor Detroit renters did. Whereas 46 percent of poor homeowners nationwide spent at least half their income on housing that year, 72 percent of the poor Detroit homeowners did ( Lynch and Leonard 1991:17).