Duggan touts positive trends in housing, jobs, services

Christine Ferretti
The Detroit News

Detroit — Mayor Mike Duggan on Thursday touted a post-bankrupt city with neighborhoods and business districts on the rise amid a call to entrepreneurs who have left to “come on back home.”

The mayor made the pitch during a short address during the third Detroit Homecoming — a program crafted to attract expatriates and investors to the city — taking place at the city’s Cass Technical High School.

Duggan talked about improved service delivery, home values and demolition efforts that are boosting many city communities. But along with that progress, Detroit’s unemployment rate remains the highest in Michigan and newly released U.S. Census estimates rank Detroit the nation’s poorest major city.

“The solution to poverty is jobs and making sure that our residents have the education and skills to take those jobs,” Duggan said after his speech.

Since it began in 2014, organizers say the homecoming program has helped bring more than 300 expats with ties to Detroit “home” to re-experience the city and committed investments of more than $260 million in city projects and businesses.

“We’re saying come back on home. Open your business in Detroit. Hire Detroiters,” Duggan added. “And that’s our pitch.”

Duggan’s speech comes as new estimates were released through the U.S. Census American Community Survey. It found Detroit saw no change in poverty or incomes and an estimated 39.8 percent of its residents are below the poverty line.

Poverty remains one of the city’s biggest concerns and the mayor’s administration is trying to improve public transportation and has offered programming to help people get jobs. Duggan said the city’s unemployment rate was 17.8 percent when he took office in January 2014. This July, it was 12.5 percent, he said.

“We have 15,000 more jobs today than we did three years ago,” he said.“Nobody is declaring victory, but we are making progress in a whole lot of neighborhoods in the city and we have a lot more neighborhoods to go.”

The mayor showcased his administration’s efforts to improve neighborhoods with nuisance lawsuits, federally-funded demolition efforts and restoration of neglected properties.

Since spring 2014, the city has razed more than 10,500 vacant houses. It’s also taking down 150 commercial buildings each year, he said.

In some neighborhoods, home sale prices are up more than 50 percent in the past two years, Duggan added. He also discussed development that’s transformed areas including the east riverfront, Eastern Market, Corktown and downtown.

The three-day, invitation-only event, hosted by Crain’s Detroit Business on behalf of civic and foundation leaders and corporate sponsors, concludes Friday.

Another central factor in the city’s ability to lure back Detroiters is the success of its schools.

It’s an area Duggan says he continues to be concerned over after state lawmakers approved a rescue package for Detroit’s public school district that pays off $467 million in operating debt and provides startup funding for its new debt-free district.

The mayor was among those pushing for a Detroit Education Commission to set uniform standards for all schools, traditional and charters, that didn’t win approval.

“We’ve got to come back at it. We’ve got to get it fixed,” said Duggan, adding he’ll push for it again “when the climate is right.”

Detroit Public Schools Community District’s interim superintendent, Alycia Meriweather, also addressed expats Thursday. She says the full comeback of the city depends on public education and services for Detroit youth.

“There’s not so much an achievement gap as there is an opportunity gap,” she said. “We need to keep closing that gap.”