The MT interview with Benny Napoleon
Published: July 24, 2013
BN: I’ve had the opportunity to talk with many people in the real estate business. We have to stabilize our communities that are stable. You take those communities and make sure that you eliminate the blight. You use my one square mile initiative to make sure that neighborhoods are livable, walkable and sustainable. Downtown has great ambassadors. We have people that are doing phenomenal things between downtown, midtown, Corktown. So now we have to focus on making sure that goes, that same type of attention is paid in the neighborhoods. And that comes through my square mile initiative, where we will focus on, when we have dollars that have to deal with blight, let’s take the things that are causing the most disruption in each one of those square miles: abandoned homes, new schools. Make people become property owners — we’ve allowed people who own property in this city to disrespect this city. We have people who own buildings that are in disrepair; we’ve never forced them to bring them up to code, to get them out of disrepair and be good neighbors to folks who live in area. We need to make sure that happens, and that will change how people feel about living in our community; it will change the entire tone. I’ve been in this community all my life — I have relatives throughout this city, and they’re all complaining about the same kinds of things. So until you fix them, people will not be happy living in the neighborhoods of the city of Detroit, and you need someone who understands those are the kinds of issues that are driving people away and preventing people from coming back. Focus, attention, goals, timetables, measurements, to figure out where you’re going and how you’re going to get there.
MT: With abandoned housing, there’s been millions and millions spent trying to eradicate it, and in some ways it seems there’s more abandoned housing than ever. Is there some new approach that can be taken in order to deal with it, or is it just a matter of money? What do you think?
Napoleon: The abandoned houses that are in stable neighborhoods, you take for instance, places like Morningside, East English Village, Rosedale Park, Grandmont, Aviation, Boston Medicine, Russell Woods. All of these communities that are still reasonably stable. Any abandoned home that’s in those areas, you have to immediately work on getting occupied. If they’re bank owned, then we need to make sure that the bank keeps them up, and—
MT: How big a problem do you think that is?
Napoleon: It’s a huge problem. And if it’s blighted and it can’t be occupied, we need to put that on the priority list to get it torn down. And then you get to the neighbors and say here’s a home, it’s abandoned, it can be saved. Put it in the hands of people in the neighborhood who will say we’ll get it fixed up and you find me a neighbor. Put in on the Internet. There are people here who are doing this now in large numbers, but a lot of them are investors that are not from the city. I’ve talked to folks who’ve owned homes in the thousands that are investing from around the world. We’ve got the hottest real estate market in the world right now next to Atlanta. So people are focused on Detroit, we just don’t know that they’re focused on Detroit.
MT: And are they necessarily doing anything with those homes, or are they just buying them?
Napoleon: No, they’re buying them and fixing them up, and renting them out. They are, to the tunes of thousands.
MT: Well, when you can buy it for a thousand bucks or 500 bucks— it’s a bargain.
Napoleon: People see it for what it is. It’s a good deal. It’s like buying Microsoft when it was penny stock.
MT:Are there any issues that we should talk about that I haven’t brought up? That you think should be talked about?
MT:Seriously, we’ve covered everything that you think needs to be covered?
Napoleon:… The quality education piece and the employment piece that I think that’s important is that when I was in school in this town, we had co-ops, and I worked a co-op job in the 10th, 11th and 12th grade, and from that co-op job, when I graduated from high school on a Friday night, I was working full-time at the place that I worked my co-op job, and I think that we need to go back to that. We’ve got a lot of great corporate citizens that need to be challenged to help employ the kids who are here in the city. To get them prepared for jobs when they get out of high school, and I think that we can find great cooperation in that.
MT:OK … so we have a couple of lighter questions. Are there three songs that are always on your iPod?
Napoleon:I’m more of a movie buff than a music buff.
MT:OK, do you have an all-time favorite movie?
Napoleon:Oh God. I am a true movie person, and it would be very hard for me to say what my favorite movies of all-time would be, because there are many, and they run the gamut.
MT:…What about some movie — it doesn’t have to be your favorite — that moved you deeply?
Napoleon:I couldn’t really answer that question right now because I’ve seen documentaries that have been moving and I’ve seen light stuff that I needed at the time …
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