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Blight removal money saved for Detroit, other cities

Melissa Nann Burke
Detroit News Washington Bureau

Washington — Sen. Debbie Stabenow held up a vote on the long-term transportation bill on the Senate floor Thursday evening until Republican leadership agreed to safeguard money that Detroit and other urban centers are using to combat neighborhood blight.

“I have a commitment from Sen. (Mitch) McConnell that the important Hardest Hit Funds that are helping us with blight removal will be stricken from the bill,” Stabenow said in an interview. “Both Sen. (Gary) Peters and I indicated that we’d support moving forward, once it comes out.”

McConnell confirmed on the Senate floor Friday morning that the bill had been revised and would not touch the Hardest Hit Fund.

Part of the six-year highway bill crafted by Majority Leader McConnell, R-Kentucky, and Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-California, would have rescinded unused money from a fund within the Troubled Asset Relief Program meant for foreclosure prevention and blight removal in urban centers such as Detroit and Flint. Bill drafters estimated the proposal would have raised $1.7 billion.

Stabenow and several others in Congress pushed back, with Stabenow refusing to consent to proceed with a vote Thursday.

“I can’t be part of something that takes a huge effort and stops it in its tracks, when it is so important to rebuilding,” Stabenow said in a floor speech.

Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, also urged the Senate to “make sure we don’t overreach by trying to find funding for infrastructure, in effect, creating more problems for those neighborhoods.”

As of March 31, Michigan had spent $43 million out of a total $175 million in federal funds to demolish about 3,220 homes. Overall, the state has dispersed more than $240.8 million in Hardest Hit money.

Peters, D-Bloomfield Township, said he opposed the highway provision cutting the Hardest Hit Fund, which was helping to revitalize neighborhoods.

“I believe Congress must pass a long-term highway bill, but Michigan communities trying to rebuild their neighborhoods should not have to bear the burden of fixing America’s infrastructure,” he said in a statement Thursday.

Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan lauded Stabenow’s efforts.

“The Hardest Hit Fund demolition program has had enormous success strengthening our neighborhoods, allowing us to demolish the unsalvageable houses and encouraging hundreds of families to move in and repair the better vacant homes,” a statement Thursday night from Duggan said.

mburke@detroitnews.com