Over the next 10 years, the city is poised to invest $1.7 billion in post-bankrupt Detroit to increase public safety, reduce blight and make other improvements citywide.
Some improvements already are visible, residents say. Streetlights, long dark, are on again. Garbage is being picked up regularly, according to some longtime Detroiters. But others say more needs to be done and that the needs of many still aren't being heard.
"I would like to see more support for single-mothers — with housing and with help," said Paradise Rucker, a 24-year-old east side resident. Rucker has an 8-month-old child and says even though she's seen some improvements, neighborhoods remain blighted and run-down.
"I see more streetlights on, but the roads themselves have too many potholes and are causing too many accidents," said Rucker, who has lived in the city for 11 years. "As far as helping single mothers, they're doing a bad job with that and more needs to be done."
Rucker, as well as many residents, consultants and elected officials, believe getting rid of blight should be a priority.
"It needs to be done to make it safer for our children to walk to school," she said.
Fighting blight accounts for nearly one-fourth of the $1.7 billion the city plans to spend as it emerges from the biggest municipal bankruptcy in U.S. history. The $420 million is more than budgeted for fleet and technological improvements combined.
But the total cost of removing all neighborhood blight is pegged at around $846 million, according to a May report by the Detroit Blight Removal Task Force, a coalition of experts from the government and public and private sectors.
The blight initiatives are necessary and will strengthen neighborhoods, said Charles Moore, a turnaround expert and Conway MacKenzie consultant hired by the city. But the price tag is only an estimate, he cautioned in a report filed in U.S. Bankruptcy Court.
"In addition to being, by far, the greatest cost included in the reinvestment initiatives, the removal of blighted structures also carries the greatest amount of variability, as the uncertainties related to cost of asbestos and lead abatement in these structures is the largest variable in the cost estimates," the report noted.
He said the potential benefits are easy to envision but that it is "difficult to estimate the financial benefits."
Neighborhoods a priority
That doesn't stop the blight from being a top issue — along with public safety — for west side resident with Tim Gelletly.
"There are about 30 homes in my neighborhood that need to be knocked down — homes that are no longer inhabitable," said Gelletly, 36.
He'd also like to see a comprehensive land use policy involving neighborhoods and the city. More bike lanes on roads and updated equipment for police are also high on his wish list.
Still, Gelletly said the mood in his neighborhood has been positive over the last several months. Streetlamps are being installed. Curbside recycling is available. Trash pickup, now handled through the private sector, is on time and consistent, he said.
Mayor Mike Duggan recently visited his neighborhood "with his whole entourage," he said. And Duggan — or a department head — answered all questions posed, he said.
Thomas Wilson Jr., a 67-year-old resident of the city's northwest side, also said he's already seen improvements. When someone dumped trash in front of a house, he called the city. The next day, crews were out and cleaned up the mess.
"The blight has got to go," Wilson said. "But I don't look at the glass as half-empty. I look at it as half-full or more than half-full. I'm the eternal optimist. And Detroit is going to be OK."
Better things to come
Industry experts were surprised at how efficiently the bankruptcy proceedings progressed. For the process to be complete in 16 months was "astonishing" said Laura Bartell, a bankruptcy professor at Wayne State's Law School.
And Bartell predicts better things to come for the city.
"Mayor Duggan made promises," she said. "He's started already — the lighting, the blight removal. Once he has the money behind him, the progress will come much more rapidly."
Pension, COLA cuts
City workers accepted 4.5 percent base pension cuts and the elimination of annual cost-of-living increases. Police and firefighter pensioners agreed to have their 2.25 percent annual COLA reduced to about 1 percent.
The "grand bargain" protects the Detroit Institute of Arts collection from creditors and cushioned the pension cuts to thousands of retirees.
A main point of the plan of adjustment is the equivalent of an $816 million pledge over 20 years from the state and charitable foundations that would allow the softened pension cuts and DIA protection.
Still, there are losers in any proceedings, Bartell said.
"Anybody who is not getting 100 cents to the dollar is a loser. But that's intrinsic to the bankruptcy process," Bartell said. "But we've got a good administration and people of good will. And I think that we will start moving in the right direction."