Now the Tudor houses are burned and boarded up in neighborhoods like the North End, which was once home to Motown legends Diana Ross and Smokey Robinson. About one-quarter of Detroit's buildings are empty or abandoned, and thousands are slated for demolition in the coming months, according to Data Driven Detroit.
Detroit, like other Rust Belt cities, has started to focus on immigration as a solution to repopulating these neighborhoods. Although Mexican immigrants started settling in Southwest Detroit decades ago, a few other neighborhoods have recently seen an influx of foreigners, says Steve Tobocman, director of Global Detroit, a public-private initiative launched in 2012 to help immigrant communities grow and prosper in the region.
"We want to help them build the American Dream as rapidly as possible, picking up property clusters and opening businesses," says Tobocman.
Working-class families from Bangladesh, Iraq, and Yemen have moved into Detroit's blighted neighborhoods as others flee. In the past two years, Global Detroit has launched programs to help immigrants start their own businesses and integrate with other cultures. This month, Global Detroit will host its first homeownership workshop in Spanish to walk immigrants through the process of buying a house through Detroit's Land Bank, which auctions properties seized by the city and county for neglect or unpaid taxes.
In the past, it's been hard to get home loans for low-income immigrants who don't use banks and have no credit history, says Raquel Garcia Andersen, Global Detroit's director of partnerships and community outreach. They are part of Detroit's "shadow economy," she says.
"We have a lot of banks that have been telling us they want to work with newer populations, so they might look at credit in a different way," says Anderson.
Southwest Detroit's Mexicantown is seen as an example of how immigrants can boost declining neighborhoods. Taquerias, coffee shops, and small grocery stores have made Michigan Avenue in Southwest one of the city's busiest commercial corridors.
Residents here recently elected Detroit's first Hispanic city council member. Detroit native Raquel Castañeda-López worked with Welcoming Michigan, a program focused on making immigrants feel at home, to establish Detroit as a "Welcoming City" in 2014.
Since it launched in 2012, Welcoming Michigan has hosted neighborhood dialogues between African-Americans, Latino, and Arab youth. It has even hosted a hijab fashion show and Soul Food night. Getting longtime residents, who are mostly African-American, to meet their new neighbors makes all the difference, says Christine Sauvé, a community coordinator for Welcoming Michigan in Detroit.
"People get anxious about how their community is changing and what does that mean for me?" says Christine Sauvé, of coordinator for Welcoming Michigan in. "We're trying to help people build that human connection."
This article originally misstated Councilwoman Castañeda-López's involvement in the launch of Welcoming Michigan.
Libby Isenstein and Janie Boschma contributed to this article