HUD deputy secretary tours Detroit: 'It's good to see the comeback kid come back'

Sarah Rahal
The Detroit News

Detroit — U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development Deputy Secretary Adrianne Todman toured two city neighborhoods Tuesday to see how federal funds have been used to revitalize downtown corridors and connect with the small business owners that she said are the key to their success.

Todman, who last visited Detroit 15 years ago, also used the visit to promote President Joe Biden's "Build Back Better" agenda noting she soon hopes to have more resources to invest in communities across the country.

After meeting at Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan's office Tuesday morning, Todman joined with Donald Rencher, executive director of Planning, Housing and Development and Julie Schneider, acting director of Detroit's Housing and Revitalization Department, for a bus tour of the Islandview and Livernois business districts and to see planned improvements for Detroit's Jefferson Chalmers area.

U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development Deputy Secretary Adrianne Todman toured the city Tuesday to see how federal funds have been leveraged to revitalize neighborhoods.

"Detroit is a great American town and we can learn things from Detroit for other places in the country," Todman told The Detroit News on Tuesday, adding "it's good to see the comeback kid come back."

The newly-paved $17 million Livernois streetscape is now home to 15 new Black-owned businesses. Many of which opened thanks to Motor City Match, which awarded $9.1 million in philanthropic grants. Federal funds from HUD back the administration of the program, city officials noted. 

The initiative, championed by Duggan, came under review in 2019 over record-keeping practices and concerns over whether funds were used appropriately. The findings prompted HUD to ask the city to temporarily suspend the use of federal dollars until the concerns were addressed.

The effort was also the focus of a January watchdog report released by the city's Office of Inspector General that found excessive spending and a lack of oversight in the city program designed to help jump-start small businesses. Duggan and his administration countered the findings as "not in step with reality."

Mike Burns, a HUD spokesman, told The News Tuesday that HUD issued findings following the January inspector general report. 

"There were outstanding issues (in the Motor City Match program) we're working with the city to resolve," he said. "The program has started back up with sufficient controls in place by the city to make sure funds are being spent with HUD guidelines going forward."

During Tuesday's tour, officials noted that the neighborhood surrounding the Livernois Avenue of Fashion saw 613 blighted houses razed with $10 million in federal Hardest Hit Fund dollars between 2014 and 2020.

Overall, Detroit's federal demolition program took down more than 15,000 blighted houses. But that too wasn't without controversy. The effort became the focus of state, local and federal investigations and reviews over bidding concerns and spiraling costs.

Tuesday's tour included stops to visit with Motor City Match recipient Narrow Way Cafe and the Live6 Alliance, both of which participated in the planning process for Detroit's Strategic Neighborhood Fund. David Merritt of Narrow Way Cafe said the coffee shop got its start four years ago and helped plan out the Livernois streetscape, which was "a tough process but the results are just beautiful."

"Being able to be the only Black-owned coffee house in a historic neighborhood like this, it's very special," said Merritt, who received $45,000 from Motor City Match for build-out costs. 

City planning officials on Tuesday detailed how $12.7 million Detroit received from HUD has generated $169.4 million in investment in 10 different neighborhoods, including philanthropic and private investments. 

"It was great to be able to show the deputy secretary that progress has been made," Schneider said. "She took away that local businesses and developers are doing the work in this city. She spoke a lot about people not only wanting good housing but great amenities."

Todman said the investment in Detroit's neighborhoods is something that Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris and HUD leaders "know that we can do across communities."

"This (Narrow Way Cafe) is a great example, not just investing in a business but creating good-paying jobs, good coffee, but also making communities feel like there's hope," she added. 

U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development Deputy Secretary Adrianne Todman visits Narrow Way Cafe Tuesday and speaks with Geneva Williams, CEO of Live6 Alliance.

The HUD funding for Detroit has been invested into upgrades at four parks, city greenways, seven streetscapes including Livernois and Kercheval, and has spurred private investment to rebuild buildings for affordable housing and retail.

Todman's visit comes after HUD Secretary Marcia Fudge made stops in the city earlier this month to promote Biden's agenda, visiting senior complexes and giving the keynote address at the annual NAACP dinner.

"When government spends its money, you don't want to just know you're doing the right thing, but that you're doing it well," Todman said.

Todman's tour included a stop at Wyoming and McNichols for a look at the $7 million McNichols Streetscape. Investment in the area includes the Bridging Neighborhoods and Rehabbed & Ready programs to restore vacant homes in the city's Fitzgerald community. The community has seen $1.6 million in investments on the south side of McNichols. The city also used $741,725 in Community Development Block Grant funds to create the Fitzgerald Greenway, a walking path that links the Marygrove and University of Detroit Mercy campuses.

"The streets are wider, new lighting, new businesses opening up and if you haven't been down McNichols lately, you should," said Geneva Williams, CEO of Live6 Alliance. 

Williams, born and raised in the city, said having the HUD deputy secretary here is important. 

"We spoke about how when we are intentional, focused, and work together, we can re-create the vitality that was once here," she said.

Last month, the Kresge Foundation opened a $22 million early-childhood learning center on the Marygrove College campus as part of a $50 million commitment. 

Detroit's Strategic Neighborhood Fund launched in 2014 with Livernois/McNichols, Islandview Greater Villages and Southwest/Vernor neighborhoods. In 2018, Duggan enlisted corporate sponsors who committed investments of at least $5 million apiece to expand the fund's footprint to 10 neighborhoods overall. 

"Cities have a responsibility to wisely invest federal resources into projects and initiatives that generate the most positive change and the most return on that investment," Duggan, who is seeking a third term as Detroit's mayor on Nov. 2, said in a Tuesday statement. 

"To get such a return on investment, and to create so much equity and opportunity for Detroiters in the process, is something this administration is incredibly proud of," he said.

Todman also saw the Kercheval Streetscape, $1.43 million in park upgrades at the Butzel Recreation Center as well as the Parker Durand, a $23 million mixed-income, mixed-use development that used $1.5 million from the HOME Investment Partnerships Program.

"Getting people into their first home and helping them build that wealth and community amenities are most important," Todman said.

Twitter: @SarahRahal_