Duggan discusses $250M blight bond, skilled trades training center

Christine Ferretti
The Detroit News

Detroit — Mayor Mike Duggan said Wednesday the city's efforts to tear down thousands of blighted homes will resume at "full speed" this fall if voters sign off on a $250 million bond proposal.

Detroit has taken down more than 21,000 vacant homes since 2014, primarily with federal Hardest Hit Fund dollars. That $263 million has been spent and budget challenges prompted by the COVID-19 outbreak has essentially halted funding for demolitions.

"There's no more money for demolitions until this passes," Duggan said during a Wednesday news conference at Detroit's Public Safety Headquarters. "There's no more money for demolitions until this passes. The demolition will start up again full speed within weeks of passage if the voters decide to authorize this."

If voters reject the blight initiative on Nov. 3, the mayor added, it's "a decision by the people of the city of Detroit that the condition of their neighborhood is something they are willing to live with."

"If you believe as I believe that we've raised enough generations of children in this city going by these blighted houses, it is time to say to every child 'you deserve to live in a blight free neighborhood,' they'll consider doing that," he said. 

The mayor's remarks on the bond plan come a day after it was narrowly approved Tuesday by Detroit's City Council.

Detroit mayor Mike Duggan, left, gives an update during a press conference at the Detroit Public Safety headquarters in Detroit on April 28, 2020.  The city is announcing the first city services to reactivate under new COVID-19 workplace safety protocols.

Duggan also provided a status update on the $30 million carpenter and millwrights training center coming to the city's west side.

The Michigan Statewide Carpenters and Millwrights Joint Apprenticeship and Training Fund announced Wednesday that it has broken ground on the project unveiled last spring.

The future training center, being constructed on Oakman at the former Tappan School site, will offer free skilled trades training for up to 1,500 students per year. It's slated for completion in mid-2021.

“For Detroit residents, this school will be an opportunity to start a lifelong career in the skilled trades, debt-free,” Duggan said. "This is a huge transformation in a well-deserved neighborhood. I can’t wait to see what’s next.”

Tom Lutz, executive secretary-treasurer of the Michigan Regional Council of Carpenters and Millwrights, said the new joint training center in Detroit will be its largest school in the state. 

"This investment, it will change lives," Lutz said. "It will be an opportunity for people of all ages and of all skill levels."

The mayor noted that if the bond plan passes there will be an even greater need for the workers who will be trained at the facility. 

The plan — called Proposal N, as in neighborhoods — would stabilize 8,000 vacant but structurally sound houses and demolish 8,000 structures that can't be saved.

The city also would commit to a goal of awarding more than half of all contracts associated with the work to Detroit companies. City residents would get preference for acquiring homes that can be salvaged and reused.  

The council rejected a separate bond plan from the mayor last fall. Critics then cited worries over a long-running federal criminal investigation into the city's demolition program and the need for more guarantees for the hiring Detroit workers. 

Brian McKinney, president of the city-based demolition firm Gayanga Co., said after the prior bond plan failure contractors "felt they didn't communicate enough how this would impact the neighborhoods and the ability of city contractors to create jobs."

"This opportunity to do this work with proposal N ensures that no matter how the pandemic impacts the rest of our economy that there is work." he said. "This guarantees that we are able to compete in a fair and equitable way."

Council members including President Brenda Jones, Pro Tem Mary Sheffield and James Tate and Raquel Castaneda-Lopez voted no Tuesday, citing the need for more time for community feedback, unanswered questions or lacking guarantees. 

Sheffield in late Tuesday statement the plan is better than last year's but "many questions are left unanswered" and "there still aren't adequate protections in place to avoid the pitfalls of the past."