Demanding a Say in Neighborhoods and Tax Dollars

By Denzel McCampbell

On Wednesday, a group of Detroiters with the Equitable Detroit Coalition turned in more than 5,000 signatures to get a Community Benefits Ordinance (CBO) on the city’s ballot in November. The CBO would serve as a tool for residents to have a say in the development that happens in their neighborhood with their tax dollars.

The CBO would require developers who receive more than $300,000 in tax giveaways for projects valued at $15 million or more to sit down at the table with local residents to craft and sign off on an agreement that addresses low and moderate-housing, quality of life improvements, neighborhood and infrastructure improvements, and community representation in development processes (during and post-development).

These topics to be addressed are not without historical significance for the residents. Think about the numerous developments going on in the city’s downtown and midtown areas – many are ushering in tenants to pay high dollar market-place rates, while displacing longtime residents with little to no resources to move.

Think about the $175 million given to Marathon Oil for their refinery expansion, resulting in only 15 jobs for Detroit workers and an average of more than 220 tons of sulfur dioxide being emitted from the refinery per year between 2013-15 according to a Detroit News article. In a zip code that is the most polluted in the state, the CBO can help residents mitigate the pollution in their communities when corporate polluters ask for public tax dollars.

Another project that is an example of why the CBO is needed is the QLine (M-1 Rail). In what is becoming more of a liability for residents around it and a tool for the billionaires who used public dollars to help fund it under the guise of a solution for mass public transportation, the CBO would’ve brought community members to the table to possibly create a project that is equitable to everyone impacted by it and beneficial to more than just a few. The ordinance would also help small, routinely minority-owned businesses in the areas where big development may have otherwise forced them move or close shop.

These topics are essential to stabilizing and improving the neighborhoods in the city outside of midtown and downtown as well as ensuring Detroiters aren’t displaced by the rapidly changing residential sector near the city’s core. But, there’s an additional area where the CBO will be beneficial: transparency and community involvement.

Just last month, the Detroit Free Press reported that the city of Detroit actually had a stronger case during its bankruptcy proceedings for receiving a share of the TV revenue that the Detroit Red Wings received prior to the 2014 settlement.

While city officials were arguing that Olympia Entertainment – owned by Mike and Miriam Ilitch, the same folks receiving more than $285 million for their new Little Caesar’s hockey arena – owed Detroit more than $80 million in TV revenue, Olympia failed to disclose that an sublease between them and the Red Wings, agreed with the city’s position. The reason they gave for withholding? Because Olympia and Red Wings are separate entities, even though they share owners.

Questions are now swirling on whether the settlement between the city and Olympia (which swindles the residents out of tens of millions, at least) has legal standing. However, one is left imagining if a different outcome could have happened with the community being at the table when the agreement for Joe Louis Arena between the city and Olympia was being crafted.

It’s clear that Detroiters cannot afford to depend on developers and corporations to be good corporate neighbors. From the deals made with Joe Louis Arena to the new Little Caesar’s Arena and development happening throughout, residents deserve to have a seat at the table and to have a say in what their tax dollars go to support. The CBO is a tool to do just that and a group of Detroiters talked to more than 5,000 of their fellow residents to bring in a new level of community involvement for the city.