Opinion: Let Detroiters have say on neighborhood bond plan

Andre L. Spivey and Scott Benson

There is no doubt that there has been an incredible amount of progress made in the city of Detroit since we exited bankruptcy six years ago. And once again, the Detroit City Council has a major decision to make in the next week before the summer recess. That decision is if we give our constituents the choice to decide if we invest $250 million of our money into our neighborhoods.

Before us is the opportunity to put a $250 million neighborhood improvement bond question on the Nov. 3 ballot. This second chance comes as the momentum we have seen in our city’s neighborhoods is threatened by the health and economic challenges from the COVID-19 pandemic and the slowdown of blight elimination, as federal demolition funds have been exhausted.

Proposal N would save 8,000 vacant, structurally sound houses in Detroit and demolish 8,000 structures that can't be saved.

Whenever you propose to take on $250 million in debt people have concerns, and rightfully so.

Therefore, this year’s bond proposal addresses the concerns of the City Council and members of the community that were raised last year when it was originally presented. The administration heard us loud and clear and made significant changes to the proposal to address almost all of the concerns. In addition, thanks to our city’s improved financial condition, we can afford to service this debt and give investors confidence that Detroit will repay their investment. 

Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan and Councilman Scott Benson

For starters, Proposal N offers a new focus on maintaining the historic fabric of our neighborhoods by prioritizing the preservation of salvageable homes.

We heard from the residents that, though they were happy to see dangerous eyesores brought down in their communities, they want to see more rehabilitation than demolition. They also noted that, though the abandoned houses were a blight, they did not want to look at a large number of empty lots either and wished we had saved more homes during the expenditure of the federal Hardest Hit Funds. Unfortunately, the rules surrounding the federal funds dictated that they could only be used for demolition and not the renovation of vacant homes. The proposal before us unbinds our hands and allows the city to make rehabilitation of homes the priority of this program.

Councilman Andre L. Spivey

The neighborhood improvement bond proposal will fund the rehabilitation of some 8,000 homes in communities across Detroit.

While we are prioritizing the rehabilitation of vacant homes, we have not forgotten the neighborhoods that did not receive their fair share of HHF demolition funds.  Proposal N will fund the demolition of 8,000 unsalvageable, unhealthy and dangerous homes that are too far gone to be saved.

This proposal will not only help turn blight into beautiful homes — it is also an economic development engine. This investment will be a job and opportunity creator for the residents and businesses of Detroit. Unlike when we used federal funds in the past, there will be no restrictions on the explicit support and requirement that Detroiters and Detroit based minority-owned businesses be the direct beneficiaries of these funds. Indeed, the proposal calls for at least half of the money to go toward employing Detroit residents, or for contracts to businesses that call Detroit their home.

Another important point is that Detroit will be able to keep the progress going in terms of removing blight. This will result in increased property values, improved health outcomes and safety in our neighborhoods without having to increase residents’ taxes.  

One of the unfortunate consequences of using the federal HHF dollars were restrictions on where the federal demolition funds could be spent, which meant certain neighborhoods did not see the same investment that others did. The City Council understands the frustration of those who were left out, which is why it is so important to note that a city-funded program will allow us to finally move into these communities that are typically occupied by our poorest residents.

Another improvement is that there will be a greater level of accountability, and council oversight, of the program than we had in the past because of federal restrictions.

It is extremely important to note the City Council is not being asked to approve the sale of bonds. It is being asked to give the people of Detroit a voice in how we invest in the future of our city and our neighborhoods. This is a sound, fiscally responsible and crucial proposal, and it is our duty as representatives of our residents to give them a say on whether we keep investing in our neighborhoods and ensure everyone, no matter your income level, participates in our resurgence.

Andre L. Spivey is in his third term on the Detroit City Council. He serves as the council member for District 4. 

Scott Benson is in his second term as the councilman from Detroit’s District 3.