The enhanced federal-local partnership work in Detroit got underway in 2011 when the city was selected as a first-round Strong Cities, Strong Communities (SC2) site. As part of SC2, a team from several federal agencies assembled to work with the city and help build local capacity and encourage economic growth and community development. In July 2013, the City of Detroit filed for bankruptcy. During this period, the work of the team grew into the Detroit Federal Working Group (DFWG) to help the city navigate federal programs and opportunities to speed its financial recovery. Based on Detroit’s fiscal challenges, the Department of Treasury took on a leadership role of the federal work locally. In 2015, the DFWG was reorganized with an Executive Director, four assigned agency staff (deputies), and a larger body of 20+ agencies that meet monthly to highlight local needs and bring appropriate federal support to bear.
Phase I: Start-up and Short-term Activities
Assembling Federal Team: The Detroit team was formally assembled with the city’s 2011 SC2 selection. An official from DOJ was appointed as the SC2 team lead with staff from HUD and DOE, and the White House National Economic Council rounding out the team.
Coordination structure: The SC2 team was embedded directly in the Mayor’s Office, per the SC2 model. The team worked directly with the Mayor and his staff to develop immediate priorities and projects.
Short-term focus: The SC2 team initially focused on supporting Detroit in three primary areas: vacant housing, public safety, and transit. HUD and Treasury worked with Detroit to identify federal resources for demolition and blight removal. DOJ led efforts to help the city repurpose federal funds to retain more than 100 police officers, and also provided funding and technical assistance to support community-based violence prevention and reduction efforts. The SC2 team also mobilized the DOT to assist the city and state in developing a new Regional Transit Authority to spearhead a light rail in the city. DOT also provided funding and technical assistance to expand the city’s bus network, especially for new routes connecting to job hubs outside the city center.
Bankruptcy and Mayoral Transition: In 2013, Detroit filed for bankruptcy and, in January 2014, a new mayor took office. Detroit’s new mayor, Mike Duggan, fully embraced the support of the federal team and invited the team lead to attend weekly cabinet meetings. The SC2 team was expanded and enhanced with the creation of the DFWG and a new team lead from the Department of Treasury. The team’s focus was to set expectations that the federal government would not bail Detroit out from bankruptcy, but would help the city navigate and access existing federal grants and technical assistance. The team worked with the city to put in place a new grants management system to better access and spend federal resources that were being left on the table. Detroit also leveraged more than $50 million from the Hardest Hit Fund of the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) to expand demolition of foreclosed and vacant homes.
Phase II: Ramp-up to Full Implementation
Federal Team Transition: In early 2015, a new team lead, also from the Department of the Treasury assumed leadership of the team. Early in the new team lead’s tenure, the Mayor’s office identified a set of top priorities for the DFWG. During this time, the team lead instituted weekly meetings of four deputies and monthly team meetings of the full membership of the DFWG to review annual work plans and progress reports on projects, as well as new programmatic opportunities.
Longer-term Areas of Focus and Priorities: Based on input from the Mayor, the DFWG focused on four areas: 1) neighborhood stabilization; 2) workforce development; 3) energy and resilience; and 4) international affairs. Within each area, the team developed priority projects for focusing implementation efforts with a deputy assigned to overseeing the work and managing the work plan.
Neighborhood stabilization projects built on the work already underway around demolition and blight removal. The team helped Detroit access more TARP funds, bringing the total to $125 million. This effort has helped the city staunch the spread of vacant and abandoned homes, while contributing to increases in property values. More recently, the team worked with banks, foundations and counseling agencies to launch a mortgage program that enables homeowners to buy and fix-up a home. To address workforce development priorities, the DFWG added a deputy from DOL who has helped coordinate federal resources while working collaboratively with the local workforce system. Detroit received a demonstration grant from DOL that focuses on employing youth and recently incarcerated individuals.
One of the most impactful accomplishments of the work in Detroit was technical assistance from the DOE on the use of LED lights to replace old sodium lights. Of the city’s 88,000 street lights, only about half were operational. The LED street light project, which included the establishment of a Public Lighting Authority to leverage public and private resources, has allowed the city to install 65,000 LEDs and restore light to the city.
Because Detroit is a border city connected by a bridge to Windsor, Canada, the DFWG approached Mayor Duggan with the offer of assistance in the area of international affairs. The State Department assigned a staff person to the DFWG to structure a strategy for a Mayor’s Office of International Affairs. The strategy includes business attraction, export promotion, global partnerships, and immigration to create economic opportunity for Detroiters.
Phase III: Sustaining the Work Entering the fall of 2016, the DFWG is working on its transition to the next phase of sustaining the work. The team has completed or is nearly complete with its annual work plan. The team is closing out certain projects and transitioning others to the city and local partners with ongoing technical assistance from federal team members based in their agencies’ local or regional offices.