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Feds promise to "unlock" millions in Detroit grant money, complement private efforts

The White House is doing what it can to help Detroit—but don’t look for much financial aid to flow from Washington.

Some top administration officials told state and local leaders in Detroit Friday that the White House will “unlock” millions in federal funds for the city.

That’s largely money the city had already been granted, but couldn’t use because it didn’t meet certain federal guidelines.

The funds contain money to fight blight and coordinate demolitions; boost public safety, including hiring new police and firefighters; and almost $140 million to upgrade buses and other public transit.

Together with private philanthropic efforts the administration promised to "complement," the funds add up to more than $300 million.

National Economic Council head Gene Sperling says the White House can help “expedite” things for Detroit—but given political and budget constraints, its options are limited.

“So we’re going to, in this context, look very hard at the existing resources--freeing them up, re-purposing them, [and] leveraging them with the private and public sector,” says Sperling.

But Detroit’s business and non-profit groups will have to fill in many of the gaps.

Quicken Loans CEO Dan Gilbert will help head a new blight elimination task force.

Gilbert says they need to do some major fact-finding and prioritizing first—but once that’s done, Detroit should be able to move quickly to demolish vacant buildings.

“In my view, the only way to stop it is to take them all down in a big bang approach, and be done with it,” Gilbert says.

The federal government, the state and private partners have together pledged $25 million to the city for commercial building demolition.

The White House will also put deputy assistant Treasury Secretary Don Graves “on the ground” as the administration’s “point person” for Detroit.

Sarah Cwiek joined Michigan Public in October 2009. As our Detroit reporter, she is helping us expand our coverage of the economy, politics, and culture in and around the city of Detroit.
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