Protesters shut Woodward Avenue at Grand Circus Park on Oct. 8 to speak out against the priorities Detroit officials have set for the $826 million that the City is getting from the American Rescue Plan Act. (BridgeDetroit photo by Louis Aguilar)

It’s been nearly four months since the City approved its plan to spend $826 million in American Rescue Plan Act funding, a historic amount of federal support that many hope will tackle some of Detroit’s toughest problems. 


Since that time, $53.6 million in contracts have been approved and a program to fix 1,000 roofs has been launched, but a pattern has emerged that the top priorities named by residents in a  citywide survey are not the programs getting the most funding so far. 

 The debate over funding through the American Rescue Plan Act, or ARPA, is far from settled. On Friday, about 90 people briefly shut down Woodward Avenue at Grand Circus Park to protest the way the money is being spent. Many want more money to go toward home repair, as well as find a way to compensate the tens of thousands of homeowners who overpaid in property tax for years.

“The mayor still wants to help his downtown friends first before he gives money to the neighborhoods,” said Daisy Jackson, a member of the Charlevoix Village Association on the east side. She held a sign that described the home repair issue as a crisis. Detroit mayoral candidate Anthony Adams and at-large City Council candidate Nicole Small joined the protesters. 

The protest shows how the ARPA funding is becoming another battle line in the downtown-versus-neighborhoods fight. Many longtime residents contend too many tax breaks and other policies favor new, more affluent residents and big businesses, while neighborhoods deal with things such as lack of affordable housing, high taxes and public safety. 

Because many in the Motor City have huge expectations for the funding, BridgeDetroit along with Detroit Documenters, will follow the money. Among the things we’ll keep an eye on as the federal money flows through the City bureaucracy is who gets awarded various contracts, examine the issues the City aims to improve and explain the programs created or expanded by the funding. We’ll also continue to ask residents and others impacted by the policies for their takes. 

What is the American Rescue Plan Act?

The American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) is the $1.9 trillion federal stimulus bill passed in March intended to help the country recover from the deep economic pain of the COVID-19 pandemic. Parts of ARPA have already been delivered. That includes the $1,400 checks sent to millions of Americans and the extended unemployment benefits millions have received.  

The plan also earmarked $350 billion for state, local, territorial and tribal governments. Each entity has wide latitude on how to spend the funding. The City of Detroit government is getting $826 million directly from the feds. Only four cities — New York, Los Angeles, Chicago and Philadelphia — received larger direct amounts. 

Detroit is using $400 million to fill in the budget shortfalls caused by the pandemic. The shortfall was caused by the huge loss of tax revenue as businesses shut, workers were laid off and the City dealt with the deadly health crisis. The remaining $426 million in ARPRA funding is for community investments. 

The funding comes with federal restrictions that shaped the City’s spending plan. Funding, for example, cannot be spent to make pension contributions, pay off debt incurred prior to the pandemic, or pay past legal obligations. Detroit has already received $413 million and will receive the second half in May 2022. The funds must be allocated by Dec. 31, 2024.That means the City needs to figure out, by the end of 2024, how it is going to spend the money. The money needs to be spent by the end of 2026. 

Beyond the $826 million earmarked for Detroit, the City will also benefit from ARPA funding earmarked for the state, Wayne County and public schools. State government is getting $6.5 billion, and Wayne County is receiving $339.7 million. There’s another $3.7 billion earmarked for K-12 schools statewide. Detroit is counting on some of that funding to boost programs in the city.

Mayor Duggan’s plan and community surveys 

In May, Mayor Mike Duggan outlined a broad strategy on how to spend the ARPA funds. There are six categories that ARPA money will go toward. The categories: fight intergenerational poverty; increase neighborhood investment; spruce up parks and recreation centers and cultural assets; improve public safety; reduce the digital divide; and boost small businesses. Through those six categories, a host of programs will be funded or expanded. 

Detroiters priorities

This summer, City officials and community groups held 65 public meetings and posted an online survey asking residents how federal aid should be spent. Beyond the broad categories offered by officials, Detroiters prioritized these ideas and programs.  

Access to internet

Number of Detroiters who said this was top priority: 351

Double Motor City Match grants to boost small business start-ups

Number of Detroiters who said this was top priority: 317

New and expanded recreation centers

Number of Detroiters who said this was top priority: 313 

Home repairs to seniors/low-income and disability community

Number of Detroiters who said this was top priority: 282

In May and June, City officials and community groups held 65 public meetings and posted an online survey asking residents to rank the categories. Residents were asked to name the top things they wanted to fund and what they did not want to see ARPA money go toward. More than 3,800 residents participated in the meetings and a total of 1,154 residents responded to the survey. 

The City has set up a website for the survey results.

Even though residents were asked to list the programs they didn’t want ARPA funding to go toward, City officials said it doesn’t have those results, citing that not all community groups turned in those results. City officials declined to provide the results that it did gather.

Many residents who attended meetings wanted more time to digest the information about the funding. Angela Wilson said during a District 6 meeting: “It’s unfair for the City to want us to only focus on what’s within the six categories when more funds should be allocated to affordable housing.” 

Samantha Knight said during a District 3 and 4 meeting: “It’s not easy to prioritize; the categories don’t make sense.”

On June 28, the City Council approved Duggan’s strategy by a 6-2 vote. Council changed some of the amounts in various categories, but the mayor’s broad plan remained intact. It includes line item amounts for the categories. 

Detroiters’ top concerns not getting the most amount of ARPA money 

Neighborhood investment is the top concern of residents. It’s getting $103 million, according to City documents. Compare that to the $105 million that is going toward employment and job creation programs, which falls under the category of fighting generational poverty. 

Improving access to the internet was the top specific issue Detroiters want to change. It’s been budgeted for $45 million. Compare that to $90 million earmarked for the demolition and remediation of blighted commercial and industrial buildings. Commercial blight was not one of the issues on the residential survey. 

City officials contend that many of the goals overlap, so, for example, razing commercial buildings will improve neighborhoods. 

First ARPA program unveiled 

On Sept. 30, the City rolled out its first program that will use ARPA money. It’s a $30 million home repair program for low-income seniors and homeowners with disabilities in Detroit. It is triple how much the City currently spends on its existing home repair program.

The first phase will aim to repair 1,000 roofs. The next phase, slated to launch in a year, is expected to provide additional repairs to another 500 homes. The City hasn’t yet determined what that work will entail, but it may include electrical or plumbing repair.

Community organizations and researchers have said home repair has reached crisis level in Detroit. There are more than 24,000 moderately or severely inadequate homes in Detroit, according to a 2020 University of Michigan study, which analyzed 2017 American Housing Survey data. These could be homes with broken toilets, no working cooking equipment, rats or vermin in the unit, and exposed wiring and water leak.

Duggan and other City officials acknowledge $30 million won’t solve the home repair crisis. But the level of funding reflects other realities that money can’t address, such as the availability of home repair workers in Detroit. 

Further, the Duggan administration is working with foundations and corporate partners to raise more funding for home repair.

The $30 million budget is based on “the contractor capacity in this city and how much could we spend in three years,” Duggan said at a press conference that introduced the home repair program. “Anybody who has tried to get a home repair worker in this town lately knows it is not that easy. “

There are some Detroiters who want the City to rethink how the ARPA money should be spent. At Friday’s protests, many wanted more money spent on home repair. 

“Those community meetings were a game show,” said Toyia Watts, president of Charlevoix Village Association on the eastside. The community group helped organize the rally. The group also sponsored a community meeting in the summer that asked residents how to spend the ARPA funding.  “(Duggan) is giving us nothing but crumbs. It’s a slap in the face to longtime residents who kept the lights on this city,’ she said.  

Some residents also say the home repair program should be available to more than low-income residents and seniors. 

“If someone is making $15 an hour, they won’t be considered low-income and can’t qualify for this money,” Watts said. “But what kind of budget do you think they have to do major repairs to their homes?” 

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Louis Aguilar is BridgeDetroit’s senior reporter. He covered business and development for the Detroit News, and is a former reporter for the Washington Post.

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1 Comment

  1. When reporting Detroiters top priorities and Detroiter’s top funding priorities please give results for both in either numbers or percentages rather than numbers for one and percentages for the other.

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