Calling Detroit "a northern New Orleans without the French Quarter," the Chicago Tribune reports the median price of a home sold in the city was a mere $7,500 in December 2008.
Among the many dispiriting numbers that bleakly depict the decrepitude of this onetime industrial behemoth, the steep slide of housing values helps define the daunting challenge to anyone who wants to lead this shrinking, poverty-pocked city of about 800,000 people.
"We're always fighting ourselves out of a hole," said Wayne County Sheriff Warren Evans.
Despite the depth of the hole, Evans is running for mayor. In fact, he is one of 15 people who have raised their hands to be mayor of Detroit and fill the remaining months in office of the former mayor who now wears a green jumpsuit and resides in Evans' spartan house of justice, the Wayne County Jail.
Detroit has long been the snide remark and punch line to derogatory urban humor, and the conviction last fall of two-term Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick for lying about an extramarital affair with his chief of staff reinforced suspicions that Detroit is beyond help, let alone self-governance. But as the domestic auto industry, the city's principal private-sector employer and founding corporate father, seeks a financial bailout from Washington, formerly whispered remarks about the prospect of the nation's 11th-largest city being the first major American city to go bankrupt are now publicly discussed.
If the Obama administration is looking for a city to test new ideas for chronic urban problems, it can look to Detroit, a northern New Orleans without the French Quarter.