Mary Sheffield reveals details of 'People's Bills' to help Detroiters

Breana Noble
The Detroit News
City Council President Pro Tem Mary Sheffield revealed on Monday details on a series of legislation she calls the "People's Bills" that seek to shrink the socio-economic disparities in the city of Detroit.

Detroit — Council President Pro Tem Mary Sheffield says she is seeking to shrink socio-economic disparities in the city and ensure residents have access to clean water and shelter in what she officially unveiled Monday as the "People's Bills."

Sheffield, a Democrat from District 5, plans to soon formally introduce the proposals, which address community benefits from developments, water rates, affordable housing and more. She hopes the council will address the measures before its recess in November.

"In the midst of the revitalization that is taking place in our great city, there are some significant challenges that the average every day Detroiter still is experiencing in our city," Sheffield said at a press conference Monday. "Whether it is access to jobs or contracts or water or affordable housing, we lift those voices and those issues not with just rhetoric but with solutions through sound policy.

"In order for our mission to be sustainable, we as a city must protect and invest in our most precious resource, which is the residents of the city of Detroit."

Nearly a 100 people from community and interest groups chanted "No justice! No peace!" during a press conference on Monday in front of the Spirit of Detroit outside the Coleman A. Young Municipal Building.

One of Sheffield's proposals would require all city-funded contracts' workers consist 51 percent or more of Detroit residents. Although a city executive order for this requirement already exists, the ordinance would lower the $3 million threshold, explicitly include demolitions and require the government track whether developers are meeting the bar.

Alexis Wiley, Duggan's chief of staff, said the city does track who developers hire. When contractors turn over their payroll, she said, the city can see if they are meeting those requirements.

"Equity and opportunity is the most important for us as an administration," Wiley said. "We have been enforcing the executive order from the very beginning."

Sheffield said more than $70 million in city funds have been spent on city demolitions. Of that, she said, more than half have gone to contractors from the suburbs.

Although some developments have said they were unable to find qualified Detroit workers to meet already-existing requirements under the Community Benefits, Sheffield said their organizations such as the Emerging Industries Training Institute that can train people for such jobs in six to 15 weeks.

Sheffield also introduced amendments to the Community Benefits Ordinance that voters passed about a year ago. They seek to lower the threshold for projects subject to the requirements from $75 million to as low as $15 million.

Additionally, the amendments would increase the area around projects where residents must be notified from 300 feet, increase the number of Neighborhood Advisory Council meetings that developers are required to attend, and broaden the scope of issues the community can address from only parking, traffic and construction negotiate. Sheffield also is seeking to make the community benefits agreements with developers legally binding.

Other pieces that Sheffield is working to put together include the following:

She is seeking to alter water rates so that residents pay based on income and not on use. Sheffield said tens of thousands of people in the city have had their water shutoff, which has garnered national attention. Legal issues concerning state law, however, have shelved similar legislation in the past.

In July, Detroit settled a 2016 lawsuit from the ACLU over how it administered the state-mandated property tax break for the poor. Sheffield said she is proposing to put the settlement into law and make it easier for residents to obtain the tax exemptions. She said in 2016, nearly 40,000 owner-occupied households qualified for the tax breaks, but a majority did not receive them because they did not know they existed or applying was too difficult.

Another ordinance would ensure funding for the Detroit Affordable Housing Development and Preservation Fund, which creates and preserves affordable homes for households at or below 50 percent of the area median income.

Sheffield said during negotiations, the city agreed to $2 million for the fund, but it did not allocate the money in its final budget. The ordinance would codify into law that funding.

Arthur Jemison, the City of Detroit's chief of services and infrastructure, said he has worked with Sheffield on this ordinance for years.

However, he said the city never promised $2 million for the fund. Instead, he said, the agreement was that 20 percent of commercial land sales would go toward the fund, providing an incentive to the city's Housing Revitalization Department to sell property. Since there were few of these transactions last year, the fund received about $450,000, a smaller number than in previous years when the city sold more land. Since 2018 land sales are beating last year's, Jemison said the fund is on track to receive more money next year.

"We have a common cause to have as many affordable housing units as possible," he said. "I am concerned about the statement being made. It's not what the ordinance is, and it's not in the spirit of the conversation."

Sheffield also is looking to increase salaries for Detroit police officers, eliminate mandatory cash bail for municipal offenses and pass a resolution to create a "bill of rights" for homeless people staying in publicly funded temporary shelters that would include protections from harassment and intimidation, for access to emergency medical care and for voting rights.

A drafted proposal to reduce parking fees already is generating controversy. Sheffield's proposed amendment to the city's parking ordinance would lower tickets from $45 to $30 for expired meters and no parking violations, she said. It also would reinstate a 10-day grace period that reduces fines by 50 percent. Mayor Mike Duggan's office has criticized the proposal, saying it would eliminate $2 million in city revenue.

"We’ve always been focused on equity and creating opportunity," Wiley said. "She presented a lot of different ideas. What's right now being labeled as the 'People’s Bills,' we need to make sure it doesn't hurt the people and become an emergency manager bill. We need a deep analysis once the ordinances are presented."