“I learned long ago to let my game do the talking and focus on the bottom line, not the headlines. That’s why tonight I believe we must come together with one voice and one vision to make Detroit a city that works.” Detroit Mayor Dave Bing
A few years ago, many people wondered why a former Detroit Pistons Hall-of-Famer who had built a successful business after he left basketball, would run for mayor of one of the most beleaguered cities in America. But as he approaches the half-way mark of his first term, Dave Bing has laid out an economic recovery game plan for Detroit that is winning accolades from his constituents and attracting national attention.
Mayor Bing’s “Detroit Works” plan is engaging Detroiters from all walks of life to develop strategies for stronger neighborhoods, safer streets and access to jobs. As part of that plan, the mayor wants to eliminate blight and bolster the city’s tax base by enticing Detroit police officers – more than 50% of whom currently live in the suburbs -- to buy renovated abandoned houses in the city which they can purchase for as little as $1,000.
Fifty years ago, more than 2 million people called the Motor City home. Today that number is around 900,000 and shrinking, largely due to the collapse of the auto industry, an epidemic of housing foreclosures and the other ravages of the great recession. Over the last several years, unemployment has been as high as 30 percent in some neighborhoods. The jobless crisis has resulted in hundreds of abandoned houses throughout the city.
Facing a budget deficit of $300 million and the continued decline of once-proud neighborhoods, Mayor Bing has turned to innovation as a solution. He is practically giving away 200 abandoned homes in the East English Village and Boston-Edison neighborhood to police officers who currently live outside the city. Federal stimulus funds will be used to renovate the homes, many of which are being equipped for maximum energy efficiency. In addition to the increased tax revenue, the mayor and many current residents say that the presence of police officers will deter crime and improve relations between the police and citizens.
Mayor Bing is turning Detroit’s challenges into opportunities and in the process making the city more competitive to businesses and more livable for residents. We think this is a fantastic idea that could be extended to teachers and firefighters and replicated around the country.
In his state of the city address last year, Mayor Bing said, “We could have listened to those who said our city was a lost cause…We could have continued politics as usual and promised change but continued down the same path that got us here. But we decided that the old way of doing things was no longer good enough…I see a city whose collective ideas, spirit and action are coming together as they never have before to turn the page and begin a new chapter.” We applaud the mayor’s commitment and vision.
As President Obama reminded us in his State of the Union address, the only way to bring jobs back to our communities and “win the future” for our children is to out educate, out innovate and out build our global competitors. Mayor Bing’s innovative approach to rebuilding Detroit is putting those words into action.
Marc Morial is the president and CEO of the National Urban League.