By the Numbers
The MT interview with Lisa Howze
Published: July 24, 2013
Just like we have an escrow of the additional debt that we were allowed to borrow in conjunction with the consent agreement, you can escrow dollars that are meant to go toward public safety, you can escrow dollars that are meant to go toward parks and recreation
MT: Are you suggesting employing the infamous “lock box” strategy?
Howze: Right. There are ways to make sure that the taxpayers’ dollars are being spent appropriately.
MT: How would you promote cooperation between the city and your counterparts at the county level?
Howze: Whenever we talk about southeast Michigan and the city of Detroit, again, it goes back to partnership. How do we help to move the region forward? There’s always conversation about regionalism. I support regionalization as long as it does not mean the marginalization of the city of Detroit.
You see, past administrations have painted this picture that it’s OK to put the city of Detroit at the kiddy table. You don’t get to sit at the table with the adults and be a part of this conversation of controlling your own destiny.
What I’m saying is, those days are over. We’ll come to the table but we’re coming as a strong partner in this conversation, or we won’t come at all. That is what’s key. As we explore moving toward regional transportation — that’s a measure I supported [as a state representative] … it’s about how do we get to a place where we can play in the sandbox together, as opposed to this is mine, I want to keep it for me, and you can’t share in it.
… It can’t just be about Detroit giving and sharing its assets and the region participating and benefiting from it. It’s like, OK, we want to give people access to jobs that are in your communities so our transit needs to go [beyond] 8 Mile Road.
We want to be able to enjoy some of your facilities that are in, say, Oakland County. Just as well, when you come to Detroit and you enjoy ours, there’s a cost associated with that, and in order to make it fair, we’ve gotta be regional on both sides of the coin, not just when it comes to Detroit participating.
MT: There’s been much made over gentrification in Midtown and development downtown, but most residents live in the myriad other neighborhoods, many of which are impoverished. How will you marry those two Detroits?
Howze: How we do that is No. 1: Look at what’s happening in midtown and downtown; there’s a tendency to introduce the “us vs. them” conversation. I don’t envy, nor am I jealous of, the things that are happening in Midtown. In fact, I say let’s model it.
It’s no different than the outlook I had when I was 10 years old [and my neighbor] had a lemonade stand. I said, “If she could do it, I can do it.” And so, if they can do it in Midtown and downtown, then we can do it in other parts of town.
It wasn’t an accident or some magical thing … it was a part of someone’s vision and then a plan. It started as an idea where they said, by 2015, we’ll have 15,000 young people working, playing and living in the Midtown area. And as we are approaching 2015, occupancy in Midtown is well above 90 percent. [Police] response time, making that community safe, is 90 seconds from the various law enforcement agencies working together.
So when you look at what they did there, OK, let’s now look at Chalmers and I-94, Chalmers and 7 Mile, Hayes and Whittier … many people have vacated these areas. Let’s make it a destination place so that our young people, who are graduating from Detroit Public Schools with millions of dollars, collectively, in scholarships — after they go get those nice educations like I got from the University of Michigan — where, are they going to go?
Let’s create an opportunity, here in the city of Detroit, for them to come back home to use their gifts and talents, and skillsets that they develop in these great institutions, right here in the city of Detroit. Help them to become landowners, and property owners and entrepreneurs.
The other thing that we have to think about is many of the families or people who are moving to the Midtown area, they’re single. They want the urban life experience; they want to be close to the cultural assets that are available in the city of Detroit.
But, at some point, they’re going to meet the love of their life, they’re going to get married, they’re going to want to have children, they’re not going to want to raise those children in a loft or an apartment building, so they’re going to want housing. We have to create market rate housing in the city of Detroit.
MT: The issue likely isn’t whether there is affordable housing in the city as it is about safety or the quality of Detroit’s public education.
Howze: Absolutely. And so when you create this new blueprint for what a successful Detroit looks like, you have communities that are safe, you have communities that offer affordable housing or market rate housing — because we have to have a tax base in the city of Detroit — And you have strong schools.
You’ve got schools that are safe and providing an educational experience that prepares our children for the future. That’s the basic things that people want, and so in order to do that from the mayor’s office, it will require me to work with our school system, to work with our various educational providers, because we know that has become a diverse field.
It’s no longer just public education. You have your charter schools, you have private institutions that are educating our children and so, again, as mayor, you kind of have to be able to balance all those things into one and say, “What’s going to be best for the city overall, given the different tools I’ll have to work with.”
MT: What do you hope people take away from reading this interview?
Howze: … I would want you to take away from this interview that there is value to sticking and staying. There have been people in this community who have seen it all … in terms of Detroit’s evolution. And what they’re simply saying is, “I want my piece of the pie, and I feel like I have not been awarded for staying.” It’s kind of like you go through all the preparation and then someone else comes and gets the benefit of it. And so how do you reward those who have stayed. How do you create economic prosperity for them? Because, it’s about creating a level playing field; I’ve been here my whole life and I still haven’t been given the opportunity to get in the game or to actually play.
And so while we’re embracing those who are coming, it’s just like owning a retail store or any type of a business, you always want to attract new customers, but if your existing customers are walking outside the back door, you’re always going to be in the process of attracting new customers.
The type of leadership and management that I want to bring to the city is one that’s balanced, that rewards those who have stayed and create opportunities for them, for retention purposes, and then, those who are coming can say, “Hey, these people know how to take care of their own, when I have achieved the status of 10 years’, 20 years’ residency in the city of Detroit, I know that this city’s going to take care of me also.”
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