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Jobs, neighborhoods, housing take focus in Duggan's speech

Christine Ferretti
The Detroit News

Detroit — Job training, affordable housing and rebuilding neighborhoods were among the priorities Mayor Mike Duggan ticked off Tuesday in his fourth State of the City address.

To polish the point and using a city jewel as a backdrop, Duggan gave his speech at the nonprofit human rights organization Focus: HOPE on Oakman Boulevard on the city’s northwest side, where residents and others for decades have received critical job training.

In his State of the City address, an animated Duggan seemed eager to detail what he called the transformation of city services and finances in a city that exited bankruptcy in 2014.

But he added early that he was not going to focus on past accomplishments, but on “what comes next.”

“We’ve improved the basic services but if we’re going to fulfill a vision of building a Detroit that includes everybody then we’ve got to do a whole lot more,” Duggan said. “You can’t have a recovery that includes everyone if there aren’t jobs available for everyone willing to work.”

To boost job opportunities, he announced a new initiative, “Detroit at Work,” to help connect the city’s job seekers with employers. It’ll be a portal, he said, that will provide a “clear path to jobs.”

There was also the administration’s program to help city youth secure jobs and Detroit Skilled Trades Employment Program, a recent partnership with local unions to increase Detroit membership and boost job opportunities.

Moving to neighborhoods, the mayor also touted the Neighborhood Strategic Fund, which, he said, helps address critics’ concern over lack of development in communities versus a thriving downtown.

The fund has allocates $30 million from philanthropic organizations toward development. It’s begun with the engagement of residents in the areas of Livernois/McNicols,West Village and in southwest Detroit to create revitalized and walkable communities.

The plan aligns with Detroit’s vision for “20-minute neighborhoods” to provide nearby residents with close, walkable access to grocery stores and other amenities.

“If we can prove that when you invest in these neighborhoods the neighborhoods start to come back. The first $30 million will only be the beginning. I want everybody to watch,” he said. “If we prove this works ... then we go back for another $30 million and another $30 million as we move across the neighborhoods all through this city.”

Also returning: The city’s Department of Public Works’ Street Sweeping Unit is preparing to relaunch residential cleanings for the 2017 season, the first time since 2010, he said. The move includes $1.6 million in eight new sweepers as well as more staff.

Another key effort, Duggan said, is preserving affordable housing in Detroit. Future projects will ensure such housing exists in all parts of the city. A new ordinance, being crafted by Councilwoman Mary Sheffield, would guarantee that 20 percent of the units in new residential projects that receive financial support from the city would be affordable, he said.

“We are going to build a city where there is a mix of incomes in every corner and neighborhood and we’re going to be working hard,” said Duggan, who announced this month that he will run for a second term.

Council President Brenda Jones said she’s talked with the mayor about residents who feel left behind. Affordable housing and support of city-based businesses are be big part of making sure everyone sees opportunities, she said.

Jones said she’ll work to ensure “this city is a city for all.”

“All are welcome in this city, that all feel good about being in the city and that nobody feels like they are being pushed out,” she said, perhaps a nod toward critics’ who say gentrification has threatened many people in the city.

Not all of Duggan’s efforts to improve neighborhoods have gone smoothly. The mayor reflected Tuesday on some of the missteps in the administration’s massive federally funded demolition program. The program is the focus of a federal probe and state and city reviews

The initiative has brought down nearly 11,000 abandoned homes since spring 2014. But in the fall of 2015, the program came under scrutiny over spiraling costs and bidding practices.

An ongoing state review of the program’s billing practices turned up $7.3 million in what the state contends are “inappropriate” or “inaccurate” costs — the vast majority in connection with a controversial set-price bid pilot in 2014 designed to quickly bring down big bundles of houses. Duggan has defended the program by saying he rejects the state’s assertion that about $6 million tied to costs of the pilot were inappropriate.

Duggan on Tuesday conceded that the federal government's decision to suspend the demolition program for 60 days beginning in August was warranted. But the city has since overhauled procedures and made improvements to get the program back on track. The next ramp up, he said, will get down 10,000 homes in the next two years and the city is “treating this issue with the urgency it deserves.”

On the public safety front, Duggan said Detroit’s Police Department will get new officers, equipment and technology. He announced the launch of Detroit health department’s SisterFriends program, a volunteer program that provides support to pregnant women and their families.

On the fiscal side, the mayor pointed to balanced budgets for 2015 and 2016 and said the city’s budget will be balanced again at the close of this fiscal year in June. That progress, he said, will help the city get out of oversight and back to “self determination” by 2018.

Duggan said there’s “complete alliance” between his office and the new Detroit’s Public Schools Community District school board. The city has joined the board in its attempt to convince the state’s School Reform Office not to close low-performing schools. As many as 24 of 119 city schools could potentially be shuttered as soon as this summer.

“The new school board hasn’t had an opportunity to address the problem,” Duggan said. “We have 110,000 schoolchildren in this city, which means we need 110,000 seats in quality schools. Closing a school doesn’t add a quality seat. All it does is bounce our children around from place to place. Before you close a school, you need to make sure there’s a better alternative.”

Bringing back another bid for affordable car insurance, Duggan said he’s not giving up on his plans for Detroiters, saying he’d work with a coalition to attack the issue on the state level.

Detroit Councilwoman Janee Ayers said Duggan’s speech was right to hit on the need to rebuild neighborhoods, schools and boost public safety. Progress is being made, she said, but there’s a ways to go.

“It was encouraging but at the same time realistic,” she said. “So we’ve got work to do.”