Detroit City Council debates broadened plan for spending COVID-19 aid

Sarah Rahal
The Detroit News

Detroit — How Detroit will use federal coronavirus relief aid to address the negative impacts of the pandemic is under review by City Council, which is set to appropriate the funds by next week.

Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan presented his initial plan at the end of May to allocate $826 million from the American Rescue Plan to address intergenerational poverty in the city over eight categories.

Duggan previously said the funds could be used to restore neighborhoods; invest in parks, recreation and cultural facilities; improve public safety; add internet access; and help small businesses, 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.

Detroit's Office of the Chief Financial Officer Jay Rising said Tuesday that the plan is now broader than the version drafted by the mayor and includes 15 appropriations over 10 categories and about 40 purposes.

Changes to the spending plan are the result of six weeks of discussions within a working group and two dozen city-led community input sessions.

Instead of $100 million apiece to address intergenerational poverty, restoring neighborhoods, and funding parks and cultural facilities, the city's proposal to use federal funding now allocates $105 million for job creation and $40 million for small business assistance.

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 City Council agrees to the spending plan.

Tanya Stoudemire detailed the revised plan for city council members Tuesday.

Deputy CFO Tanya Stoudemire detailed the changes during a nearly three-hour meeting Tuesday, ahead of a June 30 deadline for the council to sign off on the plan. The proposal is set to be discussed in a council committee on Wednesday and if it passes the committee could go before the full council on Tuesday.

"It doesn't include everything everyone wants, including the mayor," said Rising, noting all parties worked "in good faith" to represent the council's interests and those of the community.

Council President Brenda Jones noted the urgency in moving the plan forward to get consultants in place to help execute it and put the money to work in the community, "where people are waiting for it."

"We need to get this money into circulation for our constituents," she said. "We know that our residents need to see this."

Stoudemire said among the major changes was reducing the mayor's proposed $100 million for neighborhood investments to $80 million and reallocating the $20 million towards small business assistance.

Duggan's initial $150 million towards removing blight was reduced to $95 million; $100 million to address intergenerational poverty was reduced to $67 million; $100 million for culture, recreation and parks was reduced to $41 million; closing the digital divide was reduced from $50 million to $45 million; and small business increased from the mayor's proposed $26 million to $40 million.

Duggan's $50 million for public safety was not changed.

Newly added to the plan was $105 million for employment and job creation and $23 million for neighborhood beautification.

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.

Councilman James Tate questioned the proposal, saying it doesn't seem transformational.

District 1 Councilman James Tate said dollars are being allocated to existing efforts, rather than new uses.

"We've got broad categories and we're talking about using these funds to transform our community. Right now, we haven't seen where the transformation takes place," Tate said.

Responding to Tate, Stoudemire said projects will be identified by the council later.

"I don't want people to think the projects have been predetermined, because they haven't," Stoudemire said. "This wasn't just to answer questions on a survey. This is something that will be ongoing between the administration and the community."

She said the easy part is allocating the dollars. "The hard part is when we have to figure out what these projects are going to look like and how we get these dollars to our residents in a way that's most impactful," she said. "And the discussions don't stop just because we get these dollars appropriated, they start."

District 6 Councilwoman Raquel Castañeda-López urged further explanations of the city's plans to reach undocumented immigrants, how cash assistance programs would be distributed and addressing environmental issues, including air pollution in southwest Detroit from trucks.

"There's a complete lack of language related to environmental issues, there's no clarity around the support given to the disability and the immigrant communities, there's been multiple requests to create a program around cash assistance and for grants to go directly towards homeowners as well as individuals in the form of universal basic income," she said.

Castañeda-López urged the panel and administration to put off a vote for a couple of weeks, saying the city owes it to residents to spend more time going over the details in a public setting. Some speakers agreed with her in public comments.

Raquel Castañeda-López

Jones disagreed, saying there's been plenty of time taken over six weeks to engage community and council members on the proposal.

Detroit City Charter Commissioner Nicole Small said dollars should be used for more adequate lighting, restoration of sidewalks and tree removal.

"$20 million in neighborhood restoration is a joke when they want to put $26 million into streetscapes and another $20 million into bike lanes," Small told the council.

"There is such a huge disconnect with the use of these dollars," she said. "I hope city council goes back to the table and actually listens to what Detroiters want to see and how these once in a lifetime dollars could be used."

About $3.5 million from the plan will be distributed for projects in council districts, Stoudemire said.

Jones advocated for the at-large members to receive the same allocations, adding, "But it's a give and take situation."

"We started out with eight and now we have 15 appropriations and so there has been a lot of changes," Jones said. "We may not see everything that we want ... but there are some things that we have to live with versus what we have and what the federal guidelines are that we can do with this money."

Twitter: @SarahRahal_