Detroit People’s Platform
2021-22 Detroit City Budget Statement
Submitted March 28, 2021
The budget decisions of cities like Detroit have not always looked the way they look today. Most cities—big and small—now have budgets that are weighed down and constrained by massive debt and police expenditures while spending on services like education, recreation, and affordable housing are cut to the bone or eliminated altogether. This has not always been the case. From 1940 to 1970, cities, while not perfect, were not drowning in debt and disproportionately high law enforcement costs. There tended to be stronger and adequate investment in social programs and public goods under the rubric of government. Youth and family services were important features in the budget.
This type of service-centered municipal management began to disappear in the 1970s, shifting to an entrepreneurial business-centered model. This change occurred in response to the federal government dramatically decreasing funding to cities and States. Cities were feeling the full brunt of deindustrialization and job loss, economic disinvestment, heighten suburbanization and white flight fueled by racism. The loss of a strong and reliable tax base resulted in tighter budgets with cuts to city services and programs.
By the end of the 1970s, cities were largely Black, poor, and without the social programs that once existed to combat poverty. Hopes of addressing social issues through the lens of racial and economic justice were cast aside. Instead, the solution to manage growing social problems of urban areas was to incarcerate masses of economically disenfranchised Blacks, leading to the ballooning of police spending. Today, Detroit’s police department has nearly a HALF A BILLION Dollar price tag, one of the most expensive in the country.
Detroit and other cities shifted to an entrepreneurial model that has offered city resources as commodities. Public land, infrastructure and services have been put up for sale to the highest bidder, which means private investors. Private entities organize and deliver programs and services for a profit. To maintain this model, attracting private investments becomes the life blood for economic well-being. In Detroit, the administration and city council argue to Detroiters this strategy is the only way for Detroit to compete.
However, as we have seen, this strategy more often than not backfires on Detroiters. We don’t get the full benefit because the investors and corporations rarely pay their fair share and leave huge gaps in the city budget. Taxes are often diverted from the city’s general fund for years. For example, in 2012, a year before Detroit’s bankruptcy, Detroit was a city strapped with $20 billion in debt in spite of giving away tens of millions in tax breaks to corporations annually.
In the face of the current unprecedented public health crisis, the housing crisis, and the ongoing impact of inequitable development, now is the time for Detroit City Council to shift the city’s budgetary focus back to addressing resident needs. Now is the time to shift to stronger and adequate investment in social programs that benefit the common good and can begin to renew the social contract. Detroit City Council has the power to bring about a paradigm shift from dependence on private corporation’s unfulfilled promises and toward a government dedicated to not only the survival, but success of the nation’s largest Majority Black city.
In recent years, Detroit City Council has approved the administration’s proposed budgets with minimal adjustment and occasionally with deeper cuts to the services we need. This year, Detroit City Council Members can act on behalf of the residents who have participated in the community budget surveys. This year City Council can listen and hear the residents who have taken time out of their covid impacted lives to speak and submit statements during this last round of budget hearings. This year Council Members can wield the power granted them by the current City Charter and move city funds for the benefit of the people of Detroit and our immediate needs and fight for a greater share for residents.
Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. soundly critiqued capitalism as a system where “a small privileged few are rich beyond conscience, and almost all others are doomed to be poor at some level.” Dr. King recognized that “that’s the way the system works, and since we know that the system will not change the rules, we are going to have to change the system.” We encourage Detroit City Council to step forward for the people of the city of Detroit, to have the courage to change this system, and to pivot and use this budget process as the place to begin.
These are some of the departments that Detroit People’s Platform members and supporters have made recommendations on, either through public comments or written statements:
Transit – Fund a Fare-Free Bus System
The administration's budget proposes a modest increase specifically for paratransit services. However, the budget does not commit to extending the moratorium on bus fees. We recommend General Funds be used to remove fees completely. We also demand additional funding to improve bus stops and expand bus routes.
Housing – Increase Housing and Revitalization Department (HRD) line items for Home Repair and Affordable Housing
The administration's budget proposes $3.3 million for affordable housing. This number is down from the past allocations of $3.6million. While more money was allocated to the Senior Home Repair program, affordable housing has been cut. Detroit is in the midst of a housing crisis that must be addressed through a comprehensive plan and budget allocation. There has also been a massive increase in reindustrialization across the city. We demand city council take action to provide home repair for frontline residents like those onBeniteau St. who live right next to the FCA/Stellantis expansion and are subject to the negative environmental impacts.
Libraries – Make the Libraries Whole
Recently the redirection of funds from the Libraries to the Downtown Development Authority (DDA) and otherdevelopment efforts has been presented by the Library Commission and made its way into in the media. We want the Libraries to be made whole and for funds that have been and will be captured to be reallocated from the DDA, the Detroit Economic Growth Corporation budgets for 2021-22. We demand that Detroit City Council make our Libraries Whole in this budget cycle.
Parks and Recreation (General Devices Department) - Increase Funding for Recreation Centers and Programming
The administration’s proposal for the recreation budget includes funding temporary programing in churches instead of the funding needed to reopen or establish actual recreation centers. We do not want temporary and transient programs, we want city run programs that are planned and consistent, we want pools across the city open and programming for our elders, we want funds to make capital improvements to open more public, not private, recreation centers.
CRIO - Shift CRIO funding to HRD line items for Home Repair and Affordable Housing
The Civil Rights, Inclusion and Opportunity Department (CRIO) was created in part to monitor and report on projects that fall under the city’s Community Benefits Ordinance. The department has failed to respond to resident needs and demands related to the Community Benefits process. The administration’s budget presentation mentioned a $1M increase for managing marijuana businesses but on top of that there is another $1.3M to expand other existing departmental functions. That’s an overall increase of $2.3M, from $3.4 million to $5.7 million. However, we demand that a portion of CRIO funding be reallocated to the Housing and Revitalization Department to address environmental impacts of the FCA expansion and make homes on Beniteau safe to live in. The department must be more accountable in its performance in addressing the clear racial inequities associated with large-scale public funded projects in Majority Black Detroit.