Detroit City Council approves spending plan for federal COVID-19 aid

Sarah Rahal
The Detroit News

Detroit — The Detroit City Council on Tuesday approved Mayor Mike Duggan's spending plan for $826 million in federal recovery funds to address the negative impacts of the pandemic.

The mayor presented an initial proposal, dubbed the Detroit Future Fund, at the end of May to use the American Rescue Plan funds to address intergenerational poverty in the city over eight categories.

That plan was broadened last week as a result of two dozen community input sessions. The fund will cover grants for home repairs, vacant property cleanup, home down payment assistance, police vehicles, laptops and high-speed internet; technical support for seniors and students; and tracking of affordable housing for residents. 

The council, following an hour-long discussion, approved the revised plan in a 6-2 vote with President Pro Tem Mary Sheffield and Councilwoman Raquel Castañeda-López voting against it saying more time to review the budget was needed. The vote comes one day ahead of a deadline for the panel to sign off on a plan. 

From left, Detroit Councilman James Tate, Council President Pro Tem Mary Sheffield and President Brenda Jones. The council voted 6-0 Tuesday in favor of towing ordinance amendments aimed at "eliminating predatory practices" and "creating accountability within towing in the city of Detroit.”

"There's nothing that financially or legally obligates that we must vote by June 30. That is the mayor's desire," Castañeda-López said. "There's still confusion."

Deputy CFO Tanya Stoudemire noted Tuesday that the plan had to be approved for the city to use ARP funds toward any expenses in the 2021 fiscal year. That includes, she said, the administration's decision to return staff that had been laid off or working reduced hours during the pandemic back to full-time. 

Most callers during public comment Tuesday expressed opposition to the plan, arguing for more community engagement. In a statement, Sheffield said while she supports the funding, she couldn't be rushed to misappropriate it.

"While the administration has attempted to work with Council and hear from the community, many of the recommendations from my office, colleagues and residents fell on deaf ears," Sheffield said. 

But Council President Brenda Jones countered the plan was not rushed and "everyone had an opportunity to speak" as officials revised the plan over the past six weeks.

The federal government allocated $6.54 billion for the state of Michigan and nearly $826.7 million for Detroit.

In a statement Tuesday, Duggan commended council members and the city’s finance department, noting President Joe Biden and the congressional delegation "gave us this extraordinary opportunity to invest in the city."

"Since I presented the original framework plan in May, we held 63 community meetings with more than 3,300 residents participating," he said. "Our citizens’ input and ideas resulted in the much more complete plan approved by council today."

Detroit received the first installment of $413 million in recent weeks and another $413 million is anticipated in May 2022. The money must be spent by 2024 or be returned to the federal government.

The only proposal unchanged from the mayor's initial budget was $50 million for public safety. With the funds, Duggan proposed adding 100 police vehicles, a helicopter, an upgraded training facility and four EMS Bays to firehouses for quicker response. Of the funds, $17 million would be spent on ShotSpotter technology, which listens to gunshots, and traffic cameras to recognize vehicles. 

No further details from the mayor's office were provided beyond the allocations stated in the resolution passed by the council. Duggan spokesman John Roach said the council approved allocations in broad categories and the details aren't yet finalized.

The 15 allocations in the Detroit Future Fund:

  • $250 million to maintain city services, offset revenue shortfall and invest in IT infrastructure.
  • $95 million for blight remediation, commercial and industrial demolition.
  • $30 million to match project funding, each must be approved by the City Council.
  • $15 million for grants to block clubs and neighborhood associations allocated evenly by districts.
  • $35 million to expand the Community Health Corps and targeted employment/wraparound services.
  • $30 million for new or to expand recreational centers.
  • $41 million for parks, walking paths, Joe Louis Greenway, streetscapes, arts and cultural institutions.
  • $105 million for employment and job creation towards Skills for Life employment, mentoring, senior employment, IT jobs and career access.
  • $30 million for home repairs to seniors, low-income and disabled communities.
  • $7 million to create an online city map to locate affordable housing.
  • $30 million for foreclosure prevention outreach, credit repair initiatives, down payment assistance and veterans’ housing assistance.
  • $23 million for neighborhood beautification, for vacant property and alleyway cleanouts.
  • $50 million for public safety for traffic enforcement, gun violence initiatives, police training, facility improvements, and EMS Bay's at firehouses.
  • $45 million to provide internet access and devices for low-income residents, seniors and city institutions.
  • $40 million for small business support 

Sheffield had requested that $105 million be set aside for housing in struggling neighborhoods, including $7 million for the right to counsel for residents facing evictions, and $5 million for improvements to senior housing. However, the plan does not address her requests. She also supported a pilot program for $5 million in Universal Basic Income payments to residents below the federal poverty level and increasing the proposed limit on home repair grants from $15,000 to $25,000.

"History ought to inform the future and we need to perform an economic analysis of the proposed appropriations of the ARPA funding to ensure that we use this funding to transform the lives of our residents and chart a path towards sustainable and equitable progress in our community," she said.

Twitter: @SarahRahal_