Detroit revamps blight efforts, tries to turn around program beset by controversy

The five-year Proposal N strategy, mostly funded by bonds, expands Mayor Mike Duggan’s mission to rid the city of vacant real estate. It was a huge board for Duggan running for a third term in Tuesday’s elections. Proposal N is still in its infancy but will likely be used to measure the mayor’s performance.

The Duggan government demolished more than 20,000 abandoned homes as of 2014, in the years leading up to Proposal N’s passage, but $ 265 million in federal funding ran out, so Proposal N was launched to continue the effort. It’s an updated iteration of Duggan’s original 2019 bond proposal, modified to address city council concerns over equity, an emphasis on demolition versus saving buildings, and transparency.

The administration also approved a city council resolution setting out a number of commitments across all city governments, including hiring small Detroit-based contractors, conducting further neighborhood planning efforts to address the post-demolition vacant lot problem, and working with Community groups.

Some goals have so far been achieved, exceeded or are on track: 30 of 39 demolition orders and all 23 orders for the renovation of salvageable houses went to small or very small businesses; 36 and 23, respectively, are based in Detroit and about half are black.

Detroit is also in the “pre-planning phase” of a master plan for a new sector of the city’s Strategic Neighborhood Fund areas, said Katy Trudeau, assistant director of Detroit’s planning and development division. The city chose a sector around the Midwestern neighborhood to treat vacant land there, as it is a major Proposal N demolition target, Trudeau said.

Other pledges to address concerns about the lack of support from the housing market to finance private renovation of the secured houses were not met. For example, the city council wanted the city to “evaluate and recommend” discount programs, but new ones were not officially considered. In its quarterly report on Proposal N, the city cites existing discounts on land banks for Detroit educators and city workers. Another commitment, the implementation of a “rehab academy”, was not started due to lack of funds.

The city developed a pilot home rehabilitation program to be implemented with community development organizations, but the CDOs were involved “for alternative sources of funding,” according to the report.

Lisa Williams, a director of New Beginnings CDC in the Moross-Morang neighborhood to the east of the city, said she attended community meetings, asked questions, and heard about the process. But the past cannot be erased. She said she was disappointed that the land bank, which she said was “dysfunctional,” continues to be so involved in the decision-making process.

“Proposal N came and it was suggested to be glamorous and big and different,” Williams said, although in reality it doesn’t seem that different and went back to “business as usual” to raise money for the demolition.

She said she hadn’t seen any financial support for small organizations like hers. However, she also said the demolition department was present in the communities and was “busy” warning neighbors if houses were about to collapse.

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