Duggan offers 'Detroit Future Fund' plan to spend $400M in virus relief funds

Sarah Rahal
The Detroit News

Detroit — Detroit will use part of the money from the coronavirus relief funds to fight intergenerational poverty and, overall, as a "chance to rectify a lot of wrongs," Mayor Mike Duggan said Tuesday night.

The federal funds include $6.54 billion for the state government and nearly $826.7 million for Detroit. The funds could hit city coffers by July 1, Duggan said, if the City Council agrees to the spending plan.

Detroit will receive $413 million in May and another $413 million in May 2022. The money must be spent by 2024 or be returned to the federal government.

Duggan said the first infusion could be used to restore neighborhoods; invest in parks, recreation and cultural facilities; improve public safety; add internet access; and give small businesses help, including doubling the grants awarded by Motor City Match.

Dubbed the Detroit Future Fund, the plan reads like a wish list for the city: grants for home repairs, vacant property cleanup, home down payment assistance, more police vehicles, issuing free laptops, high-speed internet; technical support to seniors and students; and tracking affordable housing for residents.

"This is a chance for us to rectify a lot of wrongs, if we do it correctly," Duggan said. "We should be building a city that’s inclusive and equitable with this money."

Duggan outlined his ideas over live stream from the Detroit Public Safety Headquarters, where he took calls from more than 100 Detroiters who offered input on use of the money.

Tuesday's meeting is the first of 25 planned for Detroiters over 25 days to gather ideas for how to spend the infusion of federal cash, he said.

The City Council must vote to appropriate the funds by June 30.

"We can’t have ongoing expenses," he said. "The money is going to be gone in 2024. If someone says, ‘Hire 200 more firefighters’ we can’t because we have to lay them off in three years. We need expenditures."

Of the first batch of $426 million, the mayor’s administration proposed:

• $100 million to fight intergenerational poverty, including spending $30 million to expand Community Health Corps; $40 million on job training; $15 million on targeted employment of youth with criminal backgrounds; $5 million to employ seniors as mentors to help families; $7 million to create a city locator database to find affordable housing and $3 million for door-to-door foreclosure prevention outreach.

• $100 million to restore neighborhoods, including granting $10 million to block clubs and neighborhood associations to improve vacant land; using $20 million to provide home repairs to seniors and low-income families; an additional $30 million for cleanouts of 80,000 vacant properties and paying Detroiters to do it; $15 million for down payment assistance to increase home ownership; $20 million for neighborhood streetscapes; $3 million to clean up alleyways; and $2 million for neighborhood signs.

• $100 million for parks, recreation and cultural facilities, including $50 million to improve parks and walking paths; $30 million for new or to expand recreational centers; and $20 million to improve cultural centers like the Motown Museum and Ossian Sweet House.

The ideas go beyond neighborhoods and technical help and other support for residents. To address drag racing and gun violence, the mayor proposed spending another $50 million to improve public safety by adding 100 police vehicles and a helicopter. Of the funds, $17 million would be spent on ShotSpotter technology, which listens to gunshots and traffic cameras to recognize vehicles. Officers would receive an upgraded training facility and four EMS Bays would be added to firehouses for quicker response.

"We have enough officers in jobs to be deployed to the street, we don’t have enough police cars," Duggan said. "I’m so tired. I see people in front of me running red lights and stop signs like they don’t exist. Is that your priority?"

To reduce the digital divide, Duggan suggested spending $50 million to provide laptops and internet to 10,000 low-income seniors, 40,000 students, 24,000 affordable housing residents and provide free neighborhood WiFi access at churches, nonprofits and DDOT buses. In addition, the city will provide free technical support and 1,000 corporate-sponsored job training and apprenticeship programs for residents.

For small businesses, the plan proposes using $26 million to double Motor City Match grants providing $500,000 each quarter new start-up businesses for the next three years.

The funding flows from President Joseph Biden's American Rescue Plan passed by Congress in March to help plug revenue shortfalls in state and local governments as a result of the pandemic and to aid responses to the virus.

Detroit received the fifth-largest allocation of funding of all cities in the U.S. behind New York, Los Angeles, Chicago and Philadelphia, "and it's up to us to put it to good use," Duggan said.

Detroit took a massive financial blow from COVID-19 that cost the city more than $410 million in revenues over a 16-month span. Officials have said the federal funding will help address shortfalls from by mandatory state-imposed shutdowns. 

The money can't be used to bolster the city's pension funds but only for four eligible categories: responding to public health emergencies with help to households, nonprofits and industries; premium pay; water and sewer infrastructure; and for governmental services to address revenue reductions sparked by the pandemic.

To address property taxes, the city can't pay back any debt with the funds but Duggan has asked if the city should help residents who owned a home during the period of widespread overassessment.

President Pro Tem Mary Sheffield said while it was refreshing to see the mayor giving the community an opportunity to weigh in on how funds should be used, she prefers a process “that doesn’t steer the input into pre-determined categories.”

“I find the unscientific poll regarding the over-assessment of Detroit residents to be incredibly disingenuous and insensitive,” Sheffield said. “I have worked with the Coalition for Property Tax Justice over the last several years, and through empirical data we have proven that residents after 2014 have been over-assessed and it’s still happening to this day.”

Detroit's Acting Chief Financial Officer Jay Rising has said the cumulative impact of the pandemic into 2024 on the general fund could reach $600 million.

The city plans to reserve $400 million to avoid layoffs or reductions for the next three years, Duggan said.

The state of Michigan will receive $6.5 billion, $800 million to Detroit Public School Community District and $340 million to Wayne County. Duggan said they will create partnerships to do projects together.

"All six categories tie back to No. 1, fighting intergenerational poverty, literally for the city of Detroit to progress," Deputy Mayor Conrad Mallet told The News on Monday. "Just like with the vaccine effort, we're not going to leave anybody behind. We are going to attempt to improve the lives of Detroiters across the board, not just the for the fortunate few."


Twitter: @SarahRahal_