Detroit’s Mayor Mike Duggan’s State if the City Address at Old Redford Theater last night took a decidedly different approach to the conventional annual performance report card for city departments and the overall quality of life for Detroiters. First, the venue veered far, far off the beaten path. Rather than being held at the municipal epicenter, the Coleman A. Young Building, the highly anticipated speech took place in a struggling Detroit neighborhood, which was abuzz as eager patrons walked the police patrolled blighted streets to get a seat in the city’s second oldest theater.
Duggan, flanked by city council members and Detroit’s city clerk, announced at the opening of his address that the Old Redford neighborhood would soon be home to a 190,000 sq. ft. Meijer star which would bring 500 jobs to the community.
Secondly and most importantly, Detroit’s 75th mayor reported that Detroit’s recovery is official and his administration intend to use technological advances to change how business is conducted in the Motor City and improve city services.
Duggan reminded audiences that in his first State of the City addressed he stated that the true gauge of a mayor’s success is whether or not the population of the city was on the rise or in decline.
On the subject of housing in Detroit, the mayor talked defiantly about curbing the practice of demolishing homes and forcing negligent property owners to repair blighted properties. “When I came to office I received a report that 80,000 homes needed to be demolished. I didn’t believe it and I outlined a plan to save these neighborhoods and sue the owners of abandoned houses … they had two choices you can fix them up or deed them to the city and we’ll sell them on ebay,” Duggan said. The City of Detroit has filed 1,200 lawsuits against owners of abandoned properties, and to date has not lost a single case.
Conversely, although the number of houses slated for demolition has been reduced, the rate of demolition escalated from 40 houses a week to 200 in an effort to complete the process and begin rebuilding. The EPA has rated Detroit’s handling of demolition logistics as the highest standard in the nation. By August of 2015 the Duggan administration will have demolished 7,500 abandoned homes.
As a small group of protesters demonstrated outside of the theater, Duggan addressed their concerns in his prepared remarks. “We have to stop foreclosures in this city. … 18,000 of those [60,000 foreclosures] belong to families and we needed to find a way to keep them in. … So I sat down with Governor Snyder on West Outer Drive and told him it was neighborhoods like these with good solid housing that people are being forced out of.” Essentially Duggan negotiated a plan to reduce interest rates for foreclosure repayment plans from 18 percent to 6 percent and allow the city treasurer to reduce back taxes to 25 percent of the amount due. The bipartisan bill was passed in late December of last year.
Other high points of the mayor’s Sate of the City Address:
- An $8 million dollar homeowner loan program with 0 percent interest for home repair.
- The creation of Detroit Opportunities page on the City of Detroit’s website to make residents aware of types of assistance available from entrepreneurial training to tax assistance.
- Crime reduction: Carjackings are down by 32 percent and Detroit has seen the lowest rate of murders since the 1960s. Police response times have been reduced from 37 minutes to 17 minutes with plans to reduce response time further through the addition of 200 police officers patrolling the streets. The city will also open a new 9th precinct on Conner Avenue.
- Make Your Date program to ensure full-term pregnancies
- The reopening of 225 parks which had been closed since 2013, Detroit clergy were involved in the reopening of 70 parks.
- The establishment of an academy for DPS high school students to receive EMS and firefighter training.
- A balanced budget for the City of Detroit for the first times since 2002.
Mayor Duggan concluded his address by recognizing the nine members of the Detroit City chess team ranging in age from 8 to 14 which recently competed against teams from prestigious schools around the country to win the national chess championship.