June 13, 2014 at 4:14 pm

White House Detroit adviser getting job with VP's office

Washington — The White House point person on Detroit is getting a new high-profile job with Vice President Joe Biden.

Don Graves, who has been assistant Treasury secretary for small business, housing and community development policy and who heads the president’s jobs council, is being named a counselor to Biden.

The White House said he will be “focused on a range of domestic policy issues aimed at widening the path to the middle class. As part of his new role, Don will continue to support the revitalization of Detroit, in coordination with the team on the ground, the White House Office of Intergovernmental Affairs and others across the administration.”

He will start in the new job Monday.

Graves, who regularly talks to Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan, has been an advocate for Detroit within the Obama administration since he was named the point person for Detroit in late September.

Duggan in May said at a forum on Mackinac Island that he had been pushing for funding from the Obama administration for buses, and had spoken by phone with Biden about it. Graves attended a private lunch with Duggan and President Barack Obama in East Lansing in February and has briefed Obama on Detroit and its Chapter 9 bankruptcy restructuring.

The White House noted that the administration has been sending high level officials to Detroit in recent weeks, including Treasury Secretary Lew, Commerce Secretary Pritzker and Energy Secretary Moniz.

Last month, the White House said it would review the recommendations of Detroit’s blight task force, which found about 22 percent of the city’s parcels are blighted or vacant.

“The completion of this report is another important step in Detroit’s ongoing effort to eliminate blight and improve the lives of Detroit’s residents,” wrote Jeff Zients, head of the National Economic Council, and Don Graves, the White House’s point person on Detroit issues. We look forward to reviewing the report’s recommendations, and to continuing to support Detroit’s vision for its revitalization.”

The report says Detroit may need as much as $2 billion to clear blight — including $850 million to deal with residential blight. The survey of 380,000 parcels found more than 84,000 were blighted or vacant.

“The administration remains committed to working with the city of Detroit to complement the tremendous efforts already underway by local government, businesses, philanthropic, civic, and neighborhood organizations, and to bring jobs back to Detroit,” the letter said. “Our colleagues from across the federal government have been in Detroit every week since October. We will remain a key partner of Detroit as it continues on a path toward stability and economic growth.”

Last year, the administration announced it was repurposing or eliminating bureaucratic strings on about $300 million in federal aid. However, the White House has offered little in the way of additional federal funds beyond an award of “Hardest Hit” funds aimed at foreclosure relief, which the Treasury allowed to be used for blight removal, and some small grants.

“We appreciate the work of the task force in bringing together a wide range of national experts, neighborhood residents, local leaders, and business and government officials to assess the health of the city’s properties, establish a baseline of the city’s real estate and provide recommendations for eliminating blight in your new report,” the letter said.

dshepardson@detroitnews.com