How important was it to get the lighting system done?
I think it was important from the standpoint of the public having confidence. We got the neighborhoods done a year ago. We finished the main streets this past week. But for a long time it seemed like city government couldn’t get anything done, and the lights were a symbol of the ineffectiveness overall, so it was a big deal to get it done on time and under budget.
What other infrastructure projects can people look forward to seeing?
On the infrastructure side, you know it’s not exciting stuff, but we’re going to be fixing the roads. We’re going to be adding another 1,000 bus trips a week to the bus schedule, because we still don’t have the kind of bus service that we ought to have. We’re going to do a huge amount of work on the water and sewer system, which you don’t notice unless there’s a sinkhole. And so, we’re gonna be doing the basics. We’ve got 40 parks that are a half acre or smaller, the kind of neighborhood parks that over the years have been forgotten. We are doing renovations on this. All of these things are exciting to the people who live around them.
The Regional Transit ballot issue did not pass in November. What kind of impact will that have?
I don’t think we expected it to pass. We won’t notice a difference. We’ll continue to build up DDOT and continue to expend the service, but we’ve got a crazy system now. We used to have two bus services, DDOT and SMART. Now we’ve got a third one, the RTA. We’ve got three different bus systems running three different-colored buses on the same streets. And at some point we need to deal with that. I’m not sure the RTA structure is doing a lot of good.
Although still high, the rate of violent crime has come down in Detroit. What can the community expect in terms of community policing and other initiatives?
Homicides are up, we’re down in almost all other categories. But if you wanna ask what’s on peoples’ minds, it’s the homicides. And it is what defines perception. And so, the green light program is finally really taking off. We’re adding 5-6 gas stations and businesses a week right now, and we’re learning how to scale up. And we’re learning as we scale up that we need to make sure the responsiveness stays high. I wouldn’t be surprised if in the first half of next year, City Council doesn’t pass an ordinance requiring businesses that are open after 10 p.m. and receiving customers to become Green Light businesses. And if we could link up the whole city, and create zones of safety the way we have, I think that would be a great step. We’ve got probably 200 police officers in Academy classes now who are graduating 30 or 40 every month. Finally getting officers on the street because we put the pay raise into effect this year and we’re able to recruit. The ceasefire program is working extremely well, where we bring in these gang members and the Chief and I and U.S. Attorney Barbara McQuade meet with 30 or 40 gang members a month to tell them tell them here’s what happens if you’re involved in a shooting, and here’s what happens if you wanna choose another opportunity. And we’ve had some who have gone back to college and others who have taken jobs. So you’re right, violent crime is down, and we’re not the most violent city. We’re 2nd or 3rd. That isn’t anything that we’re proud of, but we had to start somewhere, and if we keep bringing it down 5 or 6 percent a year, over time, we’ll get to where we wanna be.
Where are we with the demo program, and how do you talk to people about trusting the administration now that there is this federal investigation going on?
When I’m in the neighborhoods, and I still do a house party every single week, I never get asked about the investigation. What I get asked about is when is the house coming down by me? And so we’re going to be up to 100 houses a week again in early February late January. And that’s all we can really handle. We tried to get bigger than that, and as we learned it was more than we could handle. But if we could take down 100 houses a week for the next two years, another 10,000 houses, I think we’ll continue to make great progress. We’ve seen dramatic increases in property values and home sale prices in the areas where we’ve taken down the houses in the last two years, and we’re gonna keep doing it.
Have you been able to make changes to how you’ve done all that into the programs as well?
Oh yeah, we’ve completely changed it. We had a program that had six employees at the Land Bank, and was doing maybe 25 houses a week, maybe a thousand a year. We’re now at 110 employees, we’re running the largest demolition program in America, and by the way we sold 6,000 side lots to people, and by the way we got 2,000 vacant houses that people moved into, and we’re running Rehabbed and Ready. We grew it too fast without having the proper controls in place, but those controls are there now, and I think the State will tell you that the controls are there now.
With all the growth downtown, we still hear critics say that we need to do more for the neighborhoods. Are the critics wrong about the need to refocus?
I’m in the neighborhoods every day, and what you’re talking about is not the normal person’s experience. You have explosive growth downtown because downtown is where the office buildings, commercial buildings, apartment building are. What people want in the neighborhoods is services, and we have had a huge improvement in services to people living in the neighborhoods. Their lights are on, police are showing up in half the time, the ambulances are showing up in less than half the time. The illegal dump sites are cleaned up within 72 hours, the bulk pickup is every two weeks, the parks are cut every 7 to 10 days, so people in the neighborhoods have seen a huge improvement in services. And we’ve seen large numbers of people in many neighborhoods filling in vacant houses. So we’re not gonna get high rise apartments in neighborhoods. Neighborhoods expect improvement in services. The major commercial growth is gonna happen downtown and in Midtown. That’s the way it is in Chicago, that’s the way it is in Pittsburgh. So I think people who live in cities understand that.
What about small business? Is the capital loosening up some so we can encourage small business growth, and is the red tape easing off a little bit?
Talk to any business owner in the city and they’ll tell you how much easier it is. I think there’s a totally different attitude in supporting the businesses. And we’ve got a number of good programs. I’m really pleased that the Kellogg Foundation and JP Morgan Chase started the Entrepreneurs of Color program, helping dozens of small businesses that are finally getting access to capital. And Motor City Match has been an enormous success. We’re getting 300 applications every single quarter, and the ones we’ve funded are predominantly Detroiters and predominantly people of color.
Unemployment in the city is high. What’s your administration doing to link more people to skills training so they can fill the jobs that are available?
11,000 more Detroiters are working today than were working a year ago, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics. More Detroiters are working in a lot of different places. It isn’t going to be one strategy, it’s going to be a lot. …We’ve got a great workforce strategy now that is tracking every single job for which there are vacancies and figuring out how to get Detroiters those skills.
What are your hopes for DPSCD in the coming year, and the newly-elected school board?
I’m hopeful for the new board. I’ve met with most of the newly elected board members and I’m going to be supportive of them. I think Alycia Meriweather is doing an outstanding job of returning the focus to teaching. And all these 8 years of emergency managers where all they did was cut budgets and the like, and drove half of the students out of the Detroit Public Schools. Parents send children to these schools because they think their children are going to learn. And when all you’re talking about is how many you’re laying off, it doesn’t inspire any confidence.
We’re trying to create career paths, and probably the most important thing I can do is support for Detroit Promise. I mean, every student who graduates from a school in Detroit this year, who lives in Detroit, will have two years of community college paid for. And, if they a 3.0 and a 21 on their ACT, four years at a university paid for. I’m going to be supporting the district from the outside, I’m not going to try and run the district. I don’t think the mayor should be running the district. And I’m hopeful that this newly elected school board will work in partnership.
Where are we with the structural conditions of the schools?
All of the schools in the city are now up to code. All of the water has been tested and is within appropriate lead levels in all of the public schools. And so DPS made tremendous progress. The teachers had legitimate issues they were raising a year ago and it’s too bad that it took the city coming in and writing violations to do it. But from now on the City will be rigorously inspecting the school buildings.
This article was done in collaboration with the Detroit Journalism Cooperative. The interview was conducted on Dec. 21 by Detroit PBS news anchor Christy McDonald.