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Duggan in D.C. talking housing, refugees

David Shepardson
Detroit News Washington Bureau

Washington — Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan was on a two-day trip to Washington, meeting with White House, Treasury, Housing and Urban Development and State Department officials about blight removal, Syrian refugees and other issues.

Duggan said he met with U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power to talk about Detroit’s offer to host some Syrian refugees. Gov. Rick Snyder and members of Michigan’s congressional delegation have also been involved in talks about hosting additional refugees in the state.

“We’re talking about Detroit’s willingness to play our part in the relocation of Syrian refugees,” Duggan told The Detroit News in a telephone interview late Wednesday. “I want to do our share.”

He’s also meeting with White House officials including National Economic Council director Jeff Zients.

Duggan met with HUD officials Wednesday “about a significant increase in money to renovate houses for Detroiters as well as for immigrants — so we’re talking about a significant expansion of housing rehab funds.”

Detroit has several thousand vacant houses that are structurally sound and is auctioning three a day. “We’re talking about a potential solution that would allow us to rehab a large number of these houses and make them available for residents of low to moderate income,” Duggan said.

Duggan said he and U.S. officials still are examining federal programs that could be used to fund the unusual proposal.

Duggan also is trying to convince other agencies to consider Detroit. He said he and Sen. Gary Peters, D- Bloomfield Township, met with the commissioner of the Internal Revenue Service to propose a new location in Detroit for 80 IRS employees the agency has slated to move to Memphis.

Duggan is also meeting with Treasury officials about getting additional funding from the “Hardest Hit Funds” to extend blight removal efforts.

“At the moment we are funded through December and I am trying to get that extended through April,” Duggan said.

In June 2013, Michigan became the first state to receive permission from the U.S. Treasury Department to redirect $100 million in unused Hardest Hit mortgage-aid funds to blight elimination among cities including Detroit, Flint and Pontiac. The money was part of the TARP legislation that Congress authorized in October 2008.

As of March 31, Michigan had spent $43 million in federal funds to demolish about 3,220 homes — a little more than $13,000 a home. Overall, the state has dispersed more than $240.8 million in Hardest Hit funds.

Detroit has received more than $107 million in Hardest Hit funds for anti-blight efforts through July.

Duggan has maps that he has shown to policymakers about how property values are increasing because of blight removal and other city efforts. “I think there’s real excitement here that the programs are working. We’re getting these houses occupied, properly values are coming back and now I want to speed it up,” Duggan said.

He points to the city’s turning on 55,000 streetlights, getting dozens of new buses up and running and other boosts in services. “I think there’s a great deal of confidence on the part of the federal agencies (in Detroit),” Duggan said. “Everything that they’ve supported us on we’ve delivered so now I’m coming back for the next round of plans.”

Duggan said he hasn’t yet made an endorsement for president, noting he is both close to the Clintons and Vice President Joe Biden. Duggan said he “is going to wait and see” about whether Biden runs before making a decision on an endorsement. “There’s no reason to make a decision until I see what the vice president does,” Duggan said.