Duggan keeps focus on neighborhoods, 'inclusion'
Detroit — Mayor Mike Duggan kept the focus on neighborhoods — and opportunities for all Detroiters — during an optimistic State of the City speech that laid out a road for rebuilding in the wake of the nation's biggest municipal bankruptcy.
Duggan said Detroit's growth will be the true measure of his success. To get there, he touted a number of initiatives aimed at helping city residents repair their homes, reuse vacant land, train for jobs and start new businesses, among others.
The mayor said the city's finances are sound post-bankruptcy, and that Detroit will finish this fiscal year with a balanced budget for the first time since 2002. He also repeatedly stressed the need for "economic inclusion" to ensure that all Detroiters take part in the city's rebirth.
"The talent in this world is distributed equally ... what isn't distributed equally is opportunity," Duggan said to applause during his hour-long address at Detroit's Old Redford Theatre.
Duggan's message resonated with Troy Ginyard, 34, a small business owner from Detroit who attended the speech.
"I think the energy is back in the city of Detroit," he said. "As an owner of multiple businesses, I feel good about living in the city again."
Duggan told the crowd of about 1,600 people that Detroit "is now on the road to recovery," citing efforts to combat blight in particular. He said the city is demolishing an average of 200 blighted structures per week.
A nuisance abatement program has already led to 350 houses being repaired, he said. The effort required owners of vacant homes to fix them up or face legal action from the city.
"We are making progress," Duggan said, adding his online home auction program is also taking off. "People didn't think we could sell these houses, but we are auctioning off two a day."
To help keep blight at bay, the mayor proposed an interest-free home repair program that will extend loans from $5,000 to $25,000 beginning in early March to qualified Detroit homeowners.
The $8 million program is designed to help homeowners replace roofs, windows and doors; fix furnace, plumbing and electrical problems; and make their homes more energy-efficient. To qualify, residents must own and occupy their home for at least six months prior to applying.
The mayor said he wants to make sure neighborhood groups have a stake in how city land is used. He cited Detroit's successful "side lot" program that allows property owners to buy vacant lots next to their homes. He also said he plans to bring in a "world-class" planner to study how Detroit's vast tracts of vacant land are used in the future — and stressed residents will have a say in the process, whether they want parks, gardens or parking.
"We are going to make sure as these neighborhoods grow that everyone is welcome. ... That's what a city's all about," he said.
On crime, Duggan praised Police Chief James Craig's efforts, noting fewer carjackings and murders in the city last year — the lowest since the 1960s, he said. Average police response time has dropped from about 37 minutes, he said, but the plan is to cut that to 17 minutes. "We're getting close to the national average and for serious crimes we're getting there even faster."
Duggan said he wants to put more police officers on the street, with an agreement from the union to move them from desk jobs. He said police officers will go to high schools to build relationships with teens, and that Detroit will seek to be a leader in outfitting officers with body cameras "to build trust between police and the community."
Duggan said Detroit's crime rates are improving, but still, 300 killings are too many.
"We have got to change the culture in this community to recognize that every life matters," Duggan said.
The mayor also praised efforts to find and stop repeat sex offenders. He noted Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy's moves to test thousands of rape kits as well as plans to have police officers from the sex offenders' unit work with her office. "We're going to get them off the street," he said of repeat offenders.
Duggan praised his City Council colleagues, Gov. Rick Snyder and county leaders for working together on ways to rebuild Detroit.
Council President Brenda Jones lauded Duggan's effort to attract and retain small businesses.
"It is very important that we include everyone," she said.
She also applauded blight reduction efforts and a new program introduced in January to give employees, retirees and their families a 50 percent discount on homes purchased in the city's home auction website.
"It's important that we definitely repopulate the city," Jones said. "Hopefully city employees not in the city will move back."
City Councilman Gabe Leland said the most important takeaway from Duggan's message is that the city has to be "nimble" with its budget.
"It's going to take a lot of work, but we're proving that we can be more efficient," he said.
Duggan also touched on ways the city can encourage residents to stay as well as draw newcomers in. Among his proposals:
■A city-owned insurance company to help reduce high car insurance costs for Detroiters. Duggan's comment about the "injustice" of the city's high rates drew enthusiastic applause; he noted his own rates doubled when he moved to Detroit.
"The farther we dig into this … the more that we find to get these rates down, we're going to need some help," he said. "We're going to find a way to do it. We are going through a whole number of scenarios."
■"Motor City Match," a new program funded with federal grants and foundation money that will provide seed money — $500,000 every quarter — for entrepreneurs looking to start a business.
Asia Newson, an 11-year-old student at the Detroit Academy of Arts and Sciences and perhaps the city's youngest entrepreneur, said she's excited about her future after hearing the mayor's plans. Asia, who was profiled in The Detroit News on Monday, runs her own candle business.
"I think it's nice and cool and I want to be a part of this," she said. "It's good for (Mayor Duggan) and the city I grew up in."
Mark Hicks contributed.