Detroit’s ID Program Still Trying to Establish Its Identity

Detroit’s ID Program Still Trying to Establish Its Identity
February 16, 2018 Georgi-Ann Bargamian
By Georgi-Ann Bargamian

Anticipation was in the air on Dec. 7, 2016 at the Charles H. Wright Museum of African-American History.

That’s when Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan, Detroit City Council Member Raquel Castaneda-Lopez, and other city, police, school, business and community representatives gathered to kick off Detroit’s new municipal identification program.

“We’re trying to build a city where everybody is included, where everybody is valued, and everybody can access the basic services of this city in a way that doesn’t cause them stress, in a way that they have peace of mind,” said Duggan at the event.

“This is a really important day in Detroit.”

Detroit ID was initiated by community members who worked with Detroit’s Immigration Task Force to craft an ordinance that would establish a city ID program for all Detroit residents. It passed the city council unanimously in May 2016 and went into effect in December 2016.

The law gives those without state-issued identification the right to apply for a $25 city ID that helps access Detroit municipal, financial and other services. Those with state-issued ID can use their Detroit ID as an additional form of identification. All Detroit ID holders can partake in discounts offered by over 100 Detroit non-profits and businesses.

City and community leaders especially promote the program’s benefit to Detroiters returning from prison, undocumented immigrants, the homeless, young people and seniors without a state-issued driver’s license, and transgender individuals who want an ID card that doesn’t require gender identification. (Washtenaw County has also offered its residents an identification card since 2014.)

More than a year into the program, 3,506 individuals have obtained the city identification card, far short of the number needed to reach the two-year goal of 35,000 issued Detroit ID cards announced at the program’s unveiling.

Castaneda-Lopez acknowledged that the numbers “are not as high as we would have liked.”

 “The need is still closer to 35,000,” she added, and cited the $25 card cost as a factor that may discourage many Detroiters from applying. But she noted that “the biggest issue is not knowing it exists.”

Launching a Program with A Little Help from Detroit’s Friends

Sponsored by the Skillman Foundation and the Four Freedoms Fund, Detroit ID was shaped by staff from former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s Bloomberg Associates which donated the staff time required to help the city develop an ID application process and benefit structure largely modeled on New York City’s successful IDNYC program.

Outfront Media donated 30 billboards to advertise Detroit ID around the city, and over 100 Detroit and southeast Michigan businesses stepped forward to offer cardholders discounts to movie theaters, museums, and city stores and services, including the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History, Boll Family YMCA, Buddy’s Pizza, all Detroit Burger King locations, Detroit Mercantile Co., Moosejaw, Source Booksellers, Jorgensen Ford, T-Mobile, and Cinema Detroit.

City council members, staff and volunteers organized pop-up intake stations in city neighborhoods to make applying for the ID card easier for those who didn’t live near the permanent stations at Patton Recreation Center and Samaritan Center. The city also tried promotions like free cards to the first 50 applicants or a reduced $10 application fee for those applying at a pop-up site.

In March 2017, the city announced the creation of the Detroit Municipal ID Volunteer Task Force to organize free assistance to applying residents, and community organizations Michigan United, ACCESS and LA SED held numerous meetings in city neighborhoods to promote the ID program’s benefits.

But Castaneda-Lopez said outreach and advertising “has to happen on a regular basis and a larger scale” to reach Detroiters.

“Marketing is part of the challenge and looking at how to get the word out.”

48209 and 48210

Residents of Detroit’s 48209 and 48210 zip codes have the highest Detroit ID registration, according to data provided by Castaneda-Lopez’s office.

“There’s a high concentration of Yemenis and Iraqis, and mostly Latinos from Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean” in those zip codes using the card, and Castaneda-Lopez said she knows that the city’s homeless population and Detroiters returning from prison have found Detroit ID “overwhelmingly positive in helping them access services.”

Castaneda-Lopez said fear of reprisal could be discouraging more undocumented immigrants and others from applying for a Detroit ID card. But she knows those who have applied for and received the card “have seen it’s beneficial.”

“I know a lot of young professionals who have gotten the ID card for the perks. I just used it this morning myself. It’s less invasive, so I like having it as an ID.”

A ‘Tweaked’ Detroit ID

Calling 2017 “a pilot year” for the Detroit ID program, Castaneda-Lopez said it’s time for city council members, Detroit ID program administrators, intake workers, and community members to review the ID process and make changes to reach more city residents.

Like New York City’s ID process, Detroit’s program uses a point system to weigh the documents a resident submits to establish their identity and Detroit residency. Supporting documents must total 300 points to obtain a card.

Castaneda-Lopez noted that the ID application’s point system is already being reviewed to give more weight to certain government documents residents submit to support a Detroit ID application.

She also wants to discuss adding more intake centers and pop-ups throughout Detroit and hopes the city’s 2018-19 budget will include funding for Detroit ID.

But Castaneda-Lopez is convinced that Detroit ID will flourish when all city residents know more about the card and its advantages.

“It’s definitely in the marketing campaign that it’s for all Detroiters,” she said. “It’s about raising awareness and giving a sense of Detroit pride.”

For more information about Detroit ID, go to or call (800) 408-1599.

Georgi-Ann Bargamian is a reporter for New Michigan Media, a network of ethnic and minority media across the state of Michigan.


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