The University District Community Association Special Assessment District History

In December 2014, the Detroit City Council passed an ordinance that is intended to strengthen Detroit neighborhoods by empowering neighborhoods to design and implement plans to provide supplemental listed services of security, snow removal, and/or mosquito abatement. If 51% or more of the homeowners in a neighborhood sign a petition to become a Special Assessment District (SAD), all the homeowners share the cost of a City Council-approved plan. This was done to implement the provisions of Section 5i of the Michigan Home Rule City Act.

One of our Association members, Mary Jo Smith joined others in efforts prior to 2014 to amend the state law to allow neighborhoods in the downsized Detroit to be eligible for a Special Assessment District. This involvement continued until the City ordinance was adopted. 

Another member, Dave Marquart was part of UDCA’s involvement many years earlier. 

In 2016 residents of the University District (UD) asked members of the University District Community Association Board of Directors (UDCA) if the UD should become a Special Assessment District. After discussion, the Board created a committee to study the issue, laws, and ordinances governing the designation of a Special Assessment District, etc., and report to the Board on the results. 

As part of this process, the Committee conducted a resident survey to gauge community/member interest. A clear majority of the residents surveyed were in favor of the SAD concept. 

The committee collected cost estimates, reviewed historical costs for snow removal and security in the UD, the governing state law and city ordinance, and procedures, met with other community organizations pursuing SAD designation and other activities as part of their work. The $175 per homeowner cost is based on the actual cost of services provided in the UD in recent years and vendor quotations. This cost can only change by up to 15% over the 7 years if vendor charges go up during the SAD period.

In the end, the committee recommended pursuing the SAD designation for the UD. By ordinance, most UD residents would have to approve the SAD establishment by signing the petition, thus confirming the will of the majority of UD residents, not just UDCA members.

Other communities including Palmer Park, and Sherwood Forest, have established Special Assessments Districts in their respective locations. 

On September 14, 2016, the UDCA was notified of our approval by the Detroit City Council as a Designated Neighborhood Improvement Organization (DNIO). Our petition drive began soon thereafter. 

UDCA’s progress toward SAD designation was reported to the community in our then quarterly newsletter and via regular email blasts. During this process, SAD was discussed (pros, cons, questions, and answers) at each community meeting and at our bimonthly block captains’ meetings. Its status was reported at each monthly Association Board of Directors meeting (all residents are invited to these meetings). Members of the SAD committee attended block club meetings and several meetings in residents’ homes to discuss the SAD details and answer any questions residents had.

Petitions were circulated in the UD. Again, a clear majority of the residents signed the petition. 

The Assessor held two community meetings arranged by the UDCA in mid-2019. All residents were notified by letter from the Assessor’s office and invited to attend each meeting. All attendees wishing to be heard were, and all questions were answered by the Assessor’s staff and SAD representatives.

The UDCA’s SAD designation was approved by all City of Detroit departments involved on its way to presentation to the Council. A vote on the petitions was placed on the Council agenda. 

However, just days prior to the Council vote, questions were raised regarding the petitions used to collect the signatures. The Council’s Legal staff noted that the SAD ordinance specifies the format and content that the standard COD petition forms do not have. Once the Assessor’s office confirmed this, the resolution was pulled from the agenda. 

The Assessor accepted full responsibility for providing the incorrect petition forms (letter enclosed). New petitions were created, approved by the City Law Department as to conformance/compliance with the ordinance and by the Assessor’s office. UDCA again embarked on the petition drive. Tragically for many of us in Detroit and around the world, the pandemic then hit. Covid 19 precluded door-to-door canvassing and neighborhood gatherings which were our primary means of obtaining signatures the first time. Most of our efforts this time were tables, SAD signs, and chairs set up at UD intersections, outside polling places, in front of committee members’ homes, and limited door to door. All with masks, hand sanitizers, social distancing, etc.  In addition, when approached about signing this time, several neighbors thought the SAD had been approved already. They, thus, did not reply to invitations to sign a second time.  Even with these challenges, UDCA was able to obtain 55% (above the required 51% +) of our property owners’ signatures. The petitions were submitted to the Assessor’s office in early February 2022.

This designation will allow us to add another layer of security to protect ourselves, our families, and our homes. And increase the safety of winter driving by assuring that the snow is plowed from curb to curb at 4 inches or more of snowfall.

We in the UD have a relatively safe neighborhood. That is part of what attracts families to the District. But we want it to be safer. We currently have a volunteer radio patrol and a paid subscriber patrol. Both patrols are great when they are on duty! The paid patrol operates only 6 hours/day, 6 days/week. This assessment will fund the patrol, 24 hours/day, 7 days/week. We want to drive down our low crime statistics as close to zero incidents as possible. The designation will help us do that.