Beware: The Federal Government Has Decided To Help Detroit

The First Essential Scary Truth

I had a low down Son House blues chill when I read this article in yesterday’s Detroit News.

Detroit — U.S. Housing and Urban Development Secretary Shaun Donovan will announce a plan Monday to embed in Detroit officials from at least three federal departments to lend expertise to Mayor Dave Bing’s effort to improve the city, according to three knowledgeable sources.

The program aimed at strengthening cities will focus on Detroit and three to five other cities, according to a congressional source who was told about the plan. In addition to HUD, the Education and Health and Human Services departments will be involved in what at least one congressional office was told would be called the Strong Cities Initiative.

“The idea seems to be that by having federal officials on the ground in Detroit and other cities that they can make federal services and initiatives at work in the cities more coordinated, effective and efficient,” said a congressional source.

The high-level federal talent will partner not only with City Hall but with the coalition of philanthropic organizations that have joined forces to revitalize the city.

The hope is to ensure the success of projects, from the light rail up Woodward to Bing’s Detroit Works Project aimed at saving city neighborhoods, a source said.

Last month, Bing said help was on its way from the federal government. He didn’t give specifics but said it involved a collaborative effort from multiple federal agencies to better use federal dollars.

Likely departments where help could be targeted include Planning and Development and Human Services, both of which receive millions in federal dollars for everything from building demolition to homelessness prevention.

Donovan is scheduled to speak Monday at the Detroit Economic Club, and HUD is expected to announce today he’ll speak at a second Detroit event.

There was no official comment Thursday from Bing or the White House on the announcement. But a news release on the Detroit Economic Club’s website said Donovan would be unveiling a “new interagency approach to help the cities that built America solve some of their toughest problems.”

State Rep. Bert Johnson, D-Highland Park, said he learned of the visit this week while meeting with Detroit officials, but they were tight-lipped about what Donovan planned to announce.

“Detroit has needed intervention, and if we’re getting it that can only be seen as a good thing,” Johnson said Thursday.

The depth of Bing’s bench at City Hall has been a problem, with more than 30 high-level appointees leaving since he took office in 2009.

At the Detroit Regional Chamber’s Mackinac Policy Conference last month, Bing admitted the shortcoming, telling The Detroit News “the team in place is not as strong as I’d like it to be in terms of its effectiveness and expertise.” He said he gets a lot of “lip service” about help, but the business community needs to do more.

Managing resources critical

Sara Wurfel, spokeswoman for Gov. Rick Snyder, wouldn’t comment on details of Donovan’s visit, but said the governor “has met numerous times and has continued conversations with White House and Cabinet officials regarding the need and importance of strong federal, state and city partnerships, and collaboration to most effectively address critical Detroit issues.”

State Rep. Lisa Howze, D-Detroit, unaware of Donovan’s visit until told about it by The News, said: “Any assistance that can be leveraged from the federal government would be great, especially if the human resources are provided to manage the resources and whatever programs that they’re going to institute.”

Spending federal money quickly and effectively has been a problem for Detroit.

Last year the Detroit City Council was worried the city was sitting on millions of dollars in unspent federal grants. And Bing announced in May an internal and police probe of grant spending in the Department of Human Services after the director used federal money designated for poor city residents to buy $200,000 in office furniture.

It ‘can’t come soon enough’

The help from Washington is expected to boost efforts to assist City Hall, mainly with philanthropic organizations spending millions to aid government. At the forefront is the Kresge Foundation, which has invested more than $100 million in the city through many initiatives.

But cracks in the city’s partnership with Kresge emerged last week after the Wall Street Journal quoted Kresge’s president, Rip Rapson, saying he was considering pulling the foundation’s $35 million in funding for the $500 million light rail project after they were left out of part of the planning process. And Rapson told the newspaper he also was unhappy the city hasn’t better used urban planner Toni Griffin in the Detroit Works Project, which could include residents consolidated into seven to nine viable neighborhoods. Kresge is paying Griffin’s salary.

Laura Trudeau, Kresge’s senior program director, downplayed the division this week and said the foundation is committed to both projects.

The federal help “can’t come soon enough,” said State Rep. Alberta Tinsley Talabi, D-Detroit. Neighborhoods in her district have been ravaged by foreclosures and are blighted by vacant and decaying houses.

“I pray to God it’s not too little too late because it’s a very tenuous situation here as it relates to housing,” she said. “We … need a comprehensive strategy that we will stick with and that will make it happen. They should have been here yesterday.”

This offer comes from the same Federal Government who couldn’t construct a Levee system strong enough to save New Orleans in ’05.  FEMA trailers, the Gulf Oil Spill of last year, the Fast and Furious gun/drug cartel sting that has gone so horribly wrong also come to mind.  Be afraid kids, be very afraid.

Ernie Harwell and the Old Man were right: Detroit is never coming back.


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