Thursday, September 26, 2013

White House to announce $300 million in aid Friday to make Detroit safer, erase blight

By Todd Spangler/Detroit Free Press 

WASHINGTON — Nearly $300 million in aid for Detroit — from federal and state coffers, private businesses and charitable foundations — will be announced Friday as Obama administration officials visit the city to discuss what can be done to help eradicate blight, improve transportation, encourage new business and make residents safer.

The funding will include some $150 million in blight eradication and community redevelopment, including $65 million in Community Development Block Grant funding — which had already been awarded over two years but couldn’t be accessed by the city. Another $25 million could help hire as many as 150 new firefighters in the city.

Some $24 million in federal resources which had been tied up will go to repairing buses and installing security cameras, part of an overall $140 million investment in transit systems. And several charitable groups — the Ford Foundation, Kresge Foundation and Knight Foundation — will plow millions into spurring entrepreneurship and creating new jobs.
Gene Sperling, the head of President Barack Obama’s National Economic Council and an Ann Arbor native, briefed reporters on some the plans Thursday evening, saying Friday’s meeting at Wayne State is “the first of many efforts that the administration will engage in with the city of Detroit.” Many details were still to come out Friday.

“We’ve found significant resources that we believe can be unlocked and expedited and leveraged to have significant impact on the economy of Detroit,” Sperling said.

Gov. Rick Snyder, Detroit Mayor Dave Bing and Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr — who on Detroit’s behalf filed the largest municipal bankruptcy in history in July — will be part of the talks with Sperling, Housing and Urban Development Secretary Shaun Donovan, Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx and Attorney General Eric Holder.

Representatives of local foundations and business leaders were expected to be present as well. Members of Michigan’s congressional delegation were expected to attend if they could break away from votes with a federal shutdown looming at midnight Monday without a funding resolution.

“If we’re not there we’ll teleconference,” said U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich. “I think what is really important is there is an ongoing commitment from the administration.”

Sperling wasn’t immediately able to break down just how much of the $300 million represents new funding and how much had already been awarded to Detroit but, for whatever reason, hadn’t reached the city before. But he said much of it represented an effort by adminsitration officials to scour their departments for funding which Detroit could access.

For instance, in the case of $25 million to be used for firefighters, the funding, Sperling said, had “been accumulating for years” but couldn’t be accesed. The $65 million in CDBG funding includes $33 million which had been withheld from the last fiscal year because the city didn’t meet required obligations to access it.

In recent weeks and months, local leaders — from former Detroit Mayor Dennis Archer to UAW President Bob King — had visited the White House to talk about what could be done for Detroit, with a federal bailout out of the question.

Sperling said all of the parties have been working to find ways not only to make funds more flexible so they can be used where most needed, such as for demolition, but to figure out ways to ensure that the city has the proper planning and accounting systems to get the funding out to needed projects.

In the months to come, for instance, the White House’s chief technology officer is expected to lead a team of experts to Detroit to make recommendations on how to improve city systems, Sperling said.

“Detroit historically had some major problems deploying grants and other resources, and so there could be a fair amount sort of stuck in the pipeline,” Snyder, who was in Washington on Thursday, told the Free Press. “Financial systems, accounting systems for the city of Detroit? They are a disaster.”
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