Detroit's top planning executive Arthur Jemison departs for HUD post in Biden administration

Christine Ferretti
The Detroit News

Detroit — The city's top planning executive has stepped down to take a role with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development under the new administration of President Joe Biden. 

The city announced the departure of Arthur Jemison, group executive for planning, housing and development, one day after Biden's inauguration. Donald Rencher, the city's current director of housing and revitalization, will replace Jemison, the city said in a Thursday news release.

Arthur Jemison helps to announce a multimillion investment by the Ralph C. Wilson Jr. Foundation.

Jemison will serve as the principal deputy assistant secretary in the Office of Community Planning & Development at the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

“I want to express my deepest gratitude to the mayor, the cabinet, my staff, the city council, our partners in the community and, most of all, Detroiters for welcoming me and being such great partners in the work of building this City these past seven years,” Jemison said in a statement. “I am so proud of all we have accomplished working together in Detroit.”

Jemison's final day with the city was Tuesday. He was sworn in Wednesday. He wasn't available for comment. 

Donald Rencher, City of Detroit director of housing and revitalization, speaks before the groundbreaking of the Midtown West development project by Procida Development Inc.

HUD’s Office of Community Planning and Development oversees over $8 billion in federal block grant funding for cities and states for community development projects and disaster response.

The Community Development Department also oversees the HOME affordable housing program and initiatives to end homelessness and promote economic revitalization.

Jemison was recruited into the Duggan administration during Detroit's 2014 bankruptcy, heading up affordable and low-income housing efforts and strategies for assisting people experiencing homelessness. He was promoted to lead the city's planning office during a 2018 reorganization. 

“This news is a proud moment for our city,” Duggan said. “Detroit is quickly becoming a city where local, state and federal leaders nationally look to find talent, and Arthur has earned this incredible opportunity. Much of the redevelopment we are seeing in neighborhoods across the city are a direct result of his hard work, vision and leadership. 

“It's already great to have Joe Biden — a dear friend of our city — as our new president. Also, having someone like Arthur, who understands the needs and potential of urban neighborhoods, in a position to help is even better."   

Under Jemison’s leadership, and working with the Detroit City Council, more than 1,000 units of affordable housing were preserved, 2,800 units of market-rate and affordable housing were completed or under construction and more than $50 million in grants and loans were raised for affordable housing, the city noted.

Jemison's team raised funds and implemented the city's Strategic Neighborhood Fund, which is transforming 10 neighborhoods with more than $50 million in grants raised with corporate and philanthropic partners. Jemison also was integral to the approval of Ford Motor Co.’s Michigan Central Station redevelopment, the FCA Jefferson North plant expansion, and an Amazon distribution center at the former Michigan State Fairgrounds. The projects are expected to bring Detroit more than 10,000 jobs. 

Most recently, Jemison and Detroit's former Chief Financial Officer, David Massaron, worked to craft Proposal N, a $250 million ballot initiative approved by city voters in November. The money is expected to help Detroit tear down 8,000 blighted houses and rehabilitate 8,000 others that can be salvaged. 

Duggan recently announced the first round of work under the bond plan will be conducted by city-based companies. 

In the latter part of 2017, Jemison was tapped to head the Detroit Economic Growth Corp. but ultimately declined the job after it was discovered that a provision of the city charter disqualified him from accepting the position. The charter requires a gap of one year or more from city employment before joining the DEGC.

With Rencher taking on Jemison's post, Julie Schneider, deputy director of Detroit's Housing and Revitalization Department, will serve as acting director of the department.

Katy Trudeau, deputy director of the Planning and Development Department, will become that department’s acting director.

In his new role, Rencher will lead the city's efforts to coordinate with the Detroit Housing Commission and Bridging Neighborhoods program. He also will oversee the Strategic Neighborhood Fund, and will continue to oversee the Affordable Housing Leverage Fund, which invests in the preservation and creation of affordable housing in the city.

“Ensuring development and planning are conducted in an equitable way has always been one of my top priorities," Rencher said. 

Rencher has been with the city since 2015. He developed inclusive housing and neighborhood redevelopment strategies and led the city's eviction defense and homelessness response programs and has overseen more than $500 million in investments in mixed-income housing projects. 

During the COVID-19 pandemic, Rencher's department helped provide 2,400 Detroit households with eviction prevention rental assistance, coordinated 4,274 COVID tests at homeless shelters and helped establish additional COVID shelter beds. 

“Donald has proven himself as a leader who gets results and has made incredible progress in preserving and creating affordable housing in the city of Detroit,” Duggan added. “Under his leadership, the city has become a more equitable place to live, and he will bring those skills to new departments in his new role.”