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In State of the City, Duggan talks schools, jobs, and "building one Detroit"

Sarah Cwiek
Michigan Radio

Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan covered a lot of ground in his annual state of the city speech Tuesday night.

That “speech” was more of an hour-long power point presentation about some of his administration’s initiatives, including:

Schools: Duggan said he convened a meeting of the city’s main education leaders last week. They included the head of the Detroit Public Schools Community District, the head of the DPSCD school board, and some charter school authorizers. Together, the district and charters educate more than 80,000 Detroit children, while about 32,000 currently go to school outside the city.

Duggan says those two sides can find common ground in drawing some of those 32,000 back to schools in the city. He proposed forming an education commission, that would include him as well as other stakeholders, to take on coordinating some city-wide educational initiatives.

Duggan says that could include things like putting out a universal report card on school quality (something that would require state sign-off), and coordinating bus routes and extracurricular programs that would serve children by neighborhood, regardless of what kind of schools they attend. He put forth one proposal that would connect some charter and traditional public schools in a section of northwest Detroit, an idea he said could be replicated in other parts of the city.

As Detroit mayor, Duggan has no direct power over city schools, and says he doesn’t want that. But he does want to play a role in rebuilding the city’s schools, because that’s key to rebuilding the city.

“If we could get DPS and the charters working together and collaborating, we could provide good choices right here in the city of Detroit,” Duggan said. “And my role is going to be to support them, not to choose sides between them.”

Affordable housing: Duggan said that as Detroit housing prices begin to climb, the city needs more affordable housing to ensure “those who stayed” through the city’s dark times can remain in their homes.

Duggan said his administration has taken a “building-by-building” approach to encourage some landlords to retain affordable housing units as rents approach market rates in some areas, and succeeded in preserving some 1,700 units. The city also has a new affordable housing ordinance that requires all new developments receiving public subsidies to set aside 20 percent as affordable housing units.

But Duggan says the city needs to do more. He says a $250 million Affordable Housing Leverage Fund is in the works, with the goal of preserving or creating an additional 12,000 units in the next five years.

“We’ve already identified $50 million city funds. We’re raising $50 million in philanthropic funds, and we’re going for low-interest loans, so that people like major foundations can make a low-interest loan, a builder can borrow low interest, and pass those savings along in subsidized rates,” Duggan said.

“We believe we can raise this. This is what a city needs to do if you’re going to build a city that’s meant for everybody.”

Job training: “We are doing everything we are legally allowed to do to give preference to Detroiters getting new jobs coming to the city," Duggan said.

Duggan says the city is supporting that through various initiatives, ranging from training Detroit residents for jobs in new manufacturing facilities, supporting skilled trades education programs, and implementing hiring quotas for Detroiters on major development projects in the city.

Duggan says the city is trying to draw in huge companies like FoxConn and Amazon, but those employers want some workforce guarantees. He says the city can no longer afford to have a large portion of its population not participating in the workforce.

“This is now a competitive issue. In the city of Detroit, we need everybody,” Duggan said. “We need the talented people who have been out of the workforce to come back in, so that we can go after and land these big companies. You won’t believe the people who are talking about coming here, and everybody says the same thing: ‘Can you deliver the workers?’”

Blight removal: Duggan said the city is changing course somewhat on its plans to tackle blight.

Duggan says at one point, he thought the city could demolish almost 40,000 blighted homes in five years.

It’s knocked down about 14,000 in four years, but Duggan says going so quickly caused problems — including some questionable bidding practices among contractors (an FBI investigation is ongoing), and inadequate abatement practices that have, among other things, led to asbestos being released into the environment.

Duggan said he’s changing course now Detroit will demolish about 8,000 more homes, but also try to “save every house we can.”

“So by the end of 2019, every single abandoned house in this city is going to be either demolished, renovated, or boarded,” he said. “That’s my commitment.”

Duggan says Detroit should be able to leave active, post-bankruptcy state financial oversight behind this spring. And now that Detroit is leaving bankruptcy in the rear view mirror and most basic services are at least somewhat restored, it’s about rebuilding every corner of the city, “building one Detroit for all of us.”

“We’re going to do it with the Detroiters who stayed,” he said, using a phrase he returned to several times in his speech. “Those who stayed are going to have a say in what happens in their neighborhood.”

But some of Duggan’s critics said his speech and policies are still disconnected from the everyday reality of most Detroiters.

Kea Mathis, a community organizer with the group Detroit People’s Platform, said Duggan’s speech left her with “a lot of questions,” and a sense that “wrongs that need to be righted” for many longtime Detroiters are still being ignored.

“Why did you demolish houses instead of putting people in houses?” said Mathis, saying questions about the propriety of past mass tax foreclosures in particular still have yet to be addressed. “He talked about more bus routes, but for people that actually ride the bus, there are problems of access, of cleanliness, a lack of bus shelters.”

“We’re tired of hearing about so-called improvements, but anything that really makes a city thrive…those things are not addressed.”

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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