MI: Duggan Cites Progress on Transit, Blight, Vows to Get Vacant Lots Mowed

July 01--Mayor Mike Duggan said Monday night that the city is making serious progress on blight and pledged to mow and remove debris from as many as 100,000 vacant lots for the first time since 2010.

Duggan told an audience gathered for a community meeting at city hall that the city has hired contractors to tackle the problem of overgrown lots that mar the landscape, and those companies hired 70 residents to work on clearing the lots twice this year, in the summer and again in the fall.

That effort will be accompanied by a stepped-up effort to tear down buildings. Duggan said that by September, the city will be able to tear down 300 homes a week, up from a maximum of 50 in 2013.

"We are going to roll through this city like no one has ever seen," Duggan said at the meeting that coincided with the six-month mark of his first year in office.

Duggan didn't bill his speech as a defense of his time as mayor so far, but it was clear he was making a case that he and the City Council have managed a significant amount of progress since they took office in January.

Duggan set up the six-month challenge back in January when he urged Detroiters who were considering leaving the city to let him, his administration and the City Council prove that they could measurably improve the quality of life.

Duggan has won praise for getting more streets plowed during last winter's record-breaking snowfalls and for getting buses moving more reliably, although admittedly at a still-unacceptable level. He also launched a program to preserve salvageable homes neglected by property owners, forcing them to fix up and reoccupy the houses or deed them to the city based on nuisance violations.

As of Friday, Duggan's office said Detroit had already secured more than $1 million in revenue from high bidders in the Detroit Land Bank's auctions at www.buildingdetroit.org, which auctions two homes a day.

The mayor also led the charge on speeding up replacement of nonworking streetlights, setting an aggressive new schedule to have all neighborhoods re-lit with LED lights by the end of next year and all major thoroughfares by the end of 2016.

Duggan noted that the Public Lighting Authority received a credit upgrade last week that allowed the city to borrow $185 million, $25 million more than anticipated, to help pay for the lighting overhaul. And he said the Obama administration has taken note, touting Detroit as the first city in the country to plan to switch over completely to more-efficient LED from typical sodium lights, saving millions in electricity each year.

Duggan also said the city has doubled its seasonal workforce for park maintenance and convinced more than 70 community, church and business groups to adopt parks for grass mowing and litter removal. This year, 256 city parks will be regularly maintained, compared to 25 in 2013, he said.

But Duggan acknowledged having "a ways to go" on fixing the Detroit Department of Transportation. He said the city needs to get 225 buses on road. He said the city was fielding 143 per day last January, but is hiring bus drivers and mechanics and seeking help from Washington to buy 50 new buses. He said that so far the city has raised the number of buses on the streets to about 190 a day.

"We're getting there, but it is not nearly acceptable," Duggan said. "We want that bus schedule to mean something."

Duggan also:

-- Committed to having the city meet the national average of 8-minute response times for ambulances by the end of the year.

-- Said the city is setting up cameras in dumping hotspots and plans to aggressively go after dumpers, including seizing their vehicles. Residents who want dump sites cleaned can call 313-224-6000 for help.

-- Said he will announce new initiatives soon, including working with the Detroit Police Department to go after property owners who allow homes to become drug houses and another to allow residents to purchase vacant lots next to their homes.

Contact Matt Helms: 313-222-1450 or mhelms@freepress.com

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