Detroiters will get a chance to vote in November on whether the city should borrow $250 million to tackle blight, after the Detroit City Council approved Mayor Mike Duggan’s proposal on Tuesday.
The Council vote was a narrow 5-4 victory for Duggan’s “Proposal N,” which would issue city-backed bonds for blight remediation. The plan calls for using $90 million to remediate and secure 8,000 vacant homes for later rehab, and $160 million for 8,000 demolitions. Duggan says the bond would not raise existing tax rates, which are otherwise set to drop below current levels as the city retires some debt.
But skeptics on Council and in the community said the Council’s vote was rushed. Duggan just announced the plan last week.
And there are lingering concerns about longstanding issues with Detroit’s demolition program under Duggan, which was the subject of a scathing audit and the target of a federal investigation, among other things. That program has taken down nearly 21,000 abandoned properties since 2014, but the city says about that many more remain, blighting neighborhoods and endangering Detroiters.
Duggan suggests the demolition program’s past problems are now largely irrelevant, because the program will transition from Detroit Land Bank Authority control to direct city oversight. Proposal N also calls for maximizing the use of Detroit-based contractors for the program, and giving preference to companies that will employ at least 51% city residents. There is also a plan to give residents a first shot to buy and rehab vacant properties in their neighborhoods.
But these plans are all stated goals, not requirements baked into the bond proposal itself. And some Council members and residents question whether the city will actually meet them.
The Council vote is also controversial because Council member Gabe Leland cast a deciding vote. Leland is under federal indictment for taking bribes in exchange for votes, and is scheduled to go to trial next month. He was also recently hit with state-level misconduct in office charges.