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Is bankruptcy another broken promise?

Residents worry filing will not aid Detroit's services

– In Detroit, it can take police nearly an hour to respond to a 911 call. Despite razing close to 10,000 vacant houses, three times as many still stand with windows smashed and doors ripped off. At night, many streets and even freeways are dangerously shrouded in darkness because tens of thousands of street lights don't work.

This is Detroit, an insolvent city seeking to find its way through the uncertainty of the largest city in U.S. history to file for bankruptcy.

For decades, residents have heard one city official after another vow to improve city services but little would be done. On Friday – a day after the city filed the unprecedented bankruptcy – they were given a deadline.

Gov. Rick Snyder and Detroit emergency manager, Kevyn Orr, promised weary residents that they would see better city services in 30 to 60 days.

"Now is our opportunity to stop 60 years of decline," Snyder said Friday during a news conference just north of downtown.

Though Thursday's bankruptcy filing had been feared for months, the path ahead for the once mighty Motor City is still uncertain.

As Detroit starts the likely lengthy process of shedding its debt, residents, business owners and retirees nervously wonder whether they'll see improvements after years of neglect or another round of unfulfilled promises.

Vacant homes

Resident Dennis Talbert has waged a battle to improve his northwest side neighborhood of Brightmoor for years, pleading with city officials to raze rows of vacant homes that have been stripped of electrical wiring and plumbing.

So far, none have been torn down.

Mayor Dave Bing continues with his plan to demolish 10,000 empty houses before his term ends in December, and some private companies are jumping in to tear down dangerous buildings. But it's costly, and the city's inventory is too massive to make a real dent.

"I don't think the trickle-down theory works in Brightmoor," Talbert said. "The whole issue of bankruptcy will not impact poor people. Only when organizations start moving our way will those houses be removed."

Paying bills

Buried in the hundreds of pages of bankruptcy documents is the name Hercules & Hercules Inc. For more than two decades, the janitorial supply company has done business with the city, but on occasion, Detroit couldn't pay, and the company allowed it to forego payments.

For Belinda Jefferson, president of the family-run firm, the bankruptcy doesn't change its commitment.

"We know the city is facing challenges, and we're going to stick by them," said Jefferson, who declined to reveal how much Hercules & Hercules is owed.

The company is one of more than 7,000 vendors listed among the 100,000 creditors documented in the bankruptcy filing. Those with debt tied to revenue streams like water and sewerage fees will get paid.

Unsecured debt holders like Hercules & Hercules will have to stand in line and see what remains if a judge gives Detroit the OK to proceed with bankruptcy.

Retiree anxiety

The phones are lighting up at the offices of the Retired Detroit Police & Fire Fighters Association.

"The thing we can tell them right now is: 'Nothing's happened yet. Our pension hopefully will be there on Aug. 1 when it comes in,' " said the group's vice president, Greg Trozak.

Detroit has about 10,000 workers and 18,000 retirees, and Snyder called the amount of money Detroit spends on health care and pensions "unsustainable."

For retirees like Trozak, city-funded health care may become a thing of the past.

"How can we make sure there are alternative health care programs?" Snyder said. "There is basically zero funding that has been set aside for the health care liabilities in the city of Detroit."

Public safety

Rosalind Childs called 911 last year after her teenage son came home to find their home had been burglarized. The thieves took off with a laptop computer, money and a designer handbag.

"I got home four hours later and he was sitting there with a butcher's knife in my house waiting for the police to come," Childs said of her son.

After two more calls, the 51-year-old Childs was told she would be better off making a report at the closest precinct. She is doubtful bankruptcy will change anything.

"We already are getting poor city services. Last week, they didn't even pick up our trash," Childs said. "I don't think bankruptcy is really going to make a difference. You can't put a Band Aid on a gunshot wound."

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