Recently a meeting was held in Detroit about the Detroit Blight Demolition project. 200 people, both residents and council members had signed up to speak. More than 500 people attended the meeting.
The president of the council, Brenda Jones, set the tone at the beginning. She poured out her annoyance over the spam calls which she said went out Monday November 18th. They urged residents to press her to support the bond proposal. Jones told the administration officials while the bond was being presented that she has “no trust whatsoever,” and that she thinks it was the most “ridiculous poli-trick” she has ever seen. Although Jones did not guess who had sent out the phone calls, she did warn those listening that “intimidation tactics” don’t affect her. When spokesman John Roach was asked if the Mayor’s office had anything to do with the efforts to contact Jones he sent a text message which said “we encourage every Detroit resident to reach out to the elected representatives on this important issue”.
The residents attending the meeting were requesting a number of things. They urged the council to approve the measure and encourage demolition of abandoned residential buildings throughout the city. Others spoke against the program. They mentioned concerns over the city’s mismanagement of the demolition operations in recent years. Georgia Campbell is a resident of Detroit and points out that if “you can’t be a steward for a little money, how are you going to be a steward for a quarter-billion dollars?” As you can see, concerns are on both sides of the spectrum.
The meeting on Monday proved that the mayor’s band proposal is actually like. Residents clapped and snapped their fingers in approval when the city council members asked the administration officials pointed questions about the demolition program. The city council voted Tuesday on whether or not the proposal will be given to voters on the March 2020 ballot. Mayor Duggan’s administration has been campaigning for the bond to achieve its goal of completing demolition of all the city’s blighted homes by mid-2025. If the voters approve of the bond proposal, $250 million in unlimited tax general obligation bonds would be secured by the city. This money would go towards the demolition program. According to city officials, 19,000 buildings have been demolished since 2014. The money would go towards the demolition of 19,000 more residential buildings and renovation an additional 8,000 homes through the Detroit Land Bank.
Before the public had a chance to comment, the council members questioned city officials about quite a few topics related to the bond. They asked about Detroit’s demolition program, the impact to the proposal upon taxpayers, and whether or not individuals would be given money to fix up their homes if the bond passes. But no, although some of the bond money will go to rehabilitating homes, it will not go to the renovation of occupied homes; only vacant buildings the city or the Detroit Land Bank Authority owns says Arthur Jemison, the city’s group executive for housing, planning and development. And about the impact to taxpayers, if the bond proposal is not passed, they will see lower property taxes. The average property tax would decrease by about $60 per year on average if the bond proposal is denied.
The City Council was in no rush to decide about Mayor Duggan’s bond proposal. At least three times the vote has been postponed by the council on whether to send the proposal to the March 2020 ballot. But on Tuesday, November 19th, they voted it down. They needed to vote it soon, because after the deadline of November 26, the body could not vote. The bond proposal would go on recess then.
Some people are surely disappointed that the bond was voted down, but others are surely glad. According to Councilwoman Raquel Castañeda-López, this bond proposal is not the only way to fund the demolition project. According to rumours, the project would crater if the proposal were voted down, but this is not true. She said it is “not our only opportunity to do this”. Detroit Chief Financial Officer Dave Massaron said the administration is willing to change the bond some to give the council greater oversight of the bond proceeds. Jones, though, is in no mood to trust a compromise after the spam calls.
Recently there was a critical report done by the Detroit Auditor General Mark Lockridge. Lockridge blamed the city for having both “inconsistent and unreliable” demolition data and poor record keeping. He said this made it difficult to perform the audit. City officials rejected the report, saying the auditor general merely didn’t use the up-to-date data, but the old data. It wasn’t entirely his fault though, that was the only data he was provided with.
On Monday Jones raised concerns about the ongoing federal investigation over the city’s demolition program. Massaron brought to mind a news release from April by SIGTARP, a federal agency involved in the investigation. It said that no further charges are expected against additional public officials. Jones was not reassured. She said that we “don’t know what is involved in the federal investigation”. She mentioned that we might be approving the “usage of something that might be involved in the federal investigation”.