U.S. President Barack Obama is committing at least $320 million to revive bankrupt Detroit, primarily through grant and funding programs, to raze blighted buildings, hire police and firefighters and improve transit.
A delegation from Washington led by Attorney General Eric Holder, Housing and Urban Development Secretary Shaun Donovan and Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx will meet with Michigan and city officials today.
“We’re going to continue to support the efforts under way in Detroit and ensure the federal government is an active partner in supporting the revitalization of the city,” Gene Sperling, director of the National Economic Council and head of an interagency working group on Detroit, said in a statement.
Detroit, once an auto-manufacturing powerhouse, declared the largest U.S. municipal bankruptcy on July 18 after years of decline in which it lost more than half its population, to 700,000 from 1.8 million. The city has more than $18 billion in long-term obligations and is plagued by unreliable buses, broken street lights and long waits for police and ambulances. Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr took over city finances in March.
The White House will commit $150 million for demolition of blighted properties and neighborhood redevelopment, in federal and other funds. Block grants of $65 million and $25.4 million from public and private sources would be used to tear down and refurbish buildings.
Detroit has almost 150,000 empty and abandoned parcels, and its 20 square miles of vacant land is about the size ofManhattan, according to a Detroit Future City report.
Top lawmakers and administration officials have said there is no pathway for a federal bailout of the city. The actions announced today underline the fine line the administration and state officials must walk, utilizing existing programs and unused or underutilized funds, while not asking Congress for federal dollars.
The efforts will be announced after top administration officials meet with state and city officials today, with more meetings planned in the future.
Administration officials will also announce $3 million from the Justice Department for additional police officers, establishing a bike patrol and supporting youth anti-violence programs, the White House said in a statement. The Federal Emergency Management Agency will expedite access to $25 million to hire 150 firefighters and to buy equipment.
Police take an average of 58 minutes to respond to priority calls, compared with a national average of 11 minutes, Orr said in a June report. The department’s roster has shrunk by 40 percent since 2003, he said.
“The only way to rebuild the city is to provide a safe environment for residents and businesses,” said Mark Diaz, president of the Detroit Police Officers Association. “We need a lot of work. It’s going to take more than one gesture, but we’re excited about the recognition by the White House.”
The Obama administration will deploy almost $140 million in transit funding, by ensuring access to more than $100 million in Transportation Department grants, including $24 million for bus repairs and security cameras, according to the announcement. Another $25 million in grants will be made available to help a streetcar project.
The money is welcome, though how much is new remains to be seen, said Megan Owens, executive director of Transit Riders United, a Detroit-based nonprofit organization. For example, she said, the streetcar grant had already been approved.
Still, “these are funds that are greatly appreciated,” Owens said, especially if it keeps more buses rolling. Typically, one of every six is off the road for repairs, Owens said.
“It results in extremely overcrowded buses, people left at bus stops,” she said. “In recent months it feels like it’s getting worse.”