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Duggan highlights blight, crime, and tax abatement strategies in Detroit State of the City address

Duggan spoke from Detroit's Michigan Central Station, an iconic image of the city's blight that's now under renovation.
City of Detroit
Duggan spoke from Detroit's Michigan Central Station, an iconic image of the city's blight that's now under renovation.

Detroit reached a turning point in the past year — it’s now rehabbing more vacant homes than it’s demolishing.

That’s one of the items Mayor Mike Duggan highlighted during his tenth annual State of the City address Tuesday night. He spoke from the former Michigan Central Station, a once-abandoned eyesore that’s in the midst of being restored to a mobility tech research hub by Ford and other companies.

Detroit’s massive, sweeping demolition program has been one of Duggan’s signature policies. It’s taken down around 20,000 blighted buildings across the city in the past ten years.

But Duggan said Detroit’s blight-fighting effort is entering a new phase. Using bond money from the voter-approved Proposal N, the city continues to demolish and rehab homes owned by the Detroit Land Bank. That quasi-public agency was the city’s largest landowner by far, but Duggan said it’s down to an inventory of around 7,000 homes now. He added that the city will now turn its attention to the roughly 5,000 vacant and blighted homes that are privately owned.

Duggan said the larger effort has yielded benefits for Detroit homeowners. “All across the city, the home values have doubled and tripled in the last five years,” he said. “This is what I meant when I said every neighborhood has a future, and we're seeing it start to come true.”

Duggan added that Detroit will launch a new affordable housing program with some remaining city-owned properties this spring. The program will transfer homes from the land bank to non-profits, churches, or community groups, if they promise to invest in them and rent them to low-income families.

Duggan also addressed gun violence in Detroit. He said shootings have declined since a peak during the COVID-19 pandemic, but not enough. So the police department will launch a program called “Shot Stoppers”—a riff on Detroit’s use of the controversial ShotSpotter technology — to try and pinpoint and de-escalate neighborhood conflicts before they turn violent.

Duggan said the city will hand out two-year, $700,000 contracts to groups embedded in certain communities to do the work, and measure their outcomes. If shootings in the area decline, they may have their contract renewed.

“What happens if you get the police and the courts and the community activists working together?” Duggan asked. “Can we change hearts? Can we diffuse the anger in some of these neighborhoods?”

Duggan said the city is also working with law enforcement and the courts to reduce a backlog of gun cases that accumulated during the pandemic.

Duggan also strongly defended Detroit’s liberal use of tax abatementsto promote new development. He highlighted a controversial proposal to hand out nearly $800 million to the proposed District Detroit, a mega-development backed by Detroit sports team owners the Ilitch family, real estate and business magnate Stephen Ross, and the University of Michigan.

Those abatements are controversial. Critics point out that the special tax capture districts that enable most of the abatements drain potential revenue from critical services, like public schools and libraries. The Ilitch family in particular has a history of receiving public funds for projects that don’t deliver what was initially promised.

But Duggan said the abatements are worth it, because otherwise Detroit’s tax rates are too high to make it competitive with other communities. “Without abatements, we've got the highest commercial effective tax rate in the country, nearly twice as high in the suburbs,” said Duggan, adding that new development brings new jobs and other forms of tax revenue. “It's been a central part of our strategy, and is going to need to be going forward.”

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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