CHICAGO -- Top White House officials announced Friday they are freeing up $300 million of federal funds for Detroit to tell the rest of the country President Obama believes in the future of the Motor City.
“Our feeling was that, with the bankruptcy, that this was an exceptional thing happening during the Obama Administration, and it deserved an exceptional effort,” White House National Economic Council Director Gene Sperling said.
Sperling described the federal response, which includes assigning federal officials to work with Detroit government, as a “significant investment and commitment” on par with Obama’s post-2008 stimulus efforts.
“What you see here is a more expedited and aggressive effort because we want the people of Detroit to prosper, but we also want the rest of the people in the country to understand ... that Detroit, with the right resources and the right partnerships, has a great future,” Sperling said.
He made the comments during a Friday afternoon press conference attended by federal officials, Gov. Rick Snyder, Detroit Mayor Dave Bing, and emergency manager Kevyn Orr.
“We all believe this will be one of the great comeback stories in the history of American cities,” said Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Shaun Donovan, who added he grew up in New York in the 1970s and watched the city rebuild.
Sperling said Obama spoke regularly with his aides and members of the Michigan delegation, as the prospect of the city filing for the largest municipal bankruptcy in the U.S. became clear.
“We did an examination [after the Chapter 9 filing], which confirmed that the federal government, not having TARP, did not have any federal tools, and that the prospect of new legislation was extremely low,” Sperling said. “But as the President often tells us, inaction is not an option.”
The bulk of the money is federal grants that were bottled up for various reasons. Federal officials for the last few months worked with local officials to “unlock” the dollars. The city will spend the $300 million to tackle three top problem areas: blight, crime, and transportation.
Bing said Friday’s meeting with federal officials was unprecedented.
“We in Detroit can’t fix all of our problems alone,” said the mayor, who is not running for re-election. “I do believe that over the next two or three years we’re going to start to see a difference in our city.”
In addition to the funding, the Obama administration named Don Graves, a deputy assistant Treasury Secretary, to serve as point person in Detroit for the federal government.
Sperling said Friday’s meeting was just one in a series. “There’s a lot of passion in the Obama administration for Detroit.”
The money includes a first-time use of the federal Hardest Hit Fund for blight demolition, officials said. The state won $100 million from the fund, and Snyder allocated $52 million to Detroit, where blight remains one of residents’ top concerns. Roy Roberts will serve as land czar and oversee the demolition. Roberts was, until recently, the emergency manager of Detroit Public Schools.
Attorney General Eric Holder was on hand to announce the release of federal justice department funds for a variety of uses, including the hiring of 10 new police officers.