Council Member Raquel Castañeda-Lopez made Detroit history when she became the first Latina elected to the City Council.
She represents the city’s 6th district – which covers her native neighborhood of Southwest. She spoke with WDET’s Russ McNamara about District 6, shining a light on underrepresented voices, and Mayor Mike Duggan’s blight removal bond proposal, which the City Council will need to approve before it makes it to the ballot.
Click the player above to hear the full interview with Council Member Raquel Castañeda-Lopez and read edited excerpts below.
On what sets her district apart from the rest of the city
District 6 has a lot of diversity, much more beyond just the ethnic breakdown of the residents that live there. We have some of the most impoverished communities and some of the wealthiest communities. We have some of the most educated folks in the city and some of the highest rates of high school dropout. It makes it very challenging to represent all of those needs of all of those different diverse populations. But I also think that really is its greatest strength. The diversity of the people, the diversity of the communities, the rich history of neighborhoods.
On underrepresented voices
There are many communities that historically have been ignored… Certain neighborhoods… have 19 houses in a row, on some blocks, that are empty and there’s no economic activity. There’s not really talk about developing workforce development centers there and there are no planning studies there. We really have to be creative about working with neighbors and partnering with them to get some basic things done. We fight very hard, but there are still some inequities that still exist that we need to figure out creatively what we need to do to address them.
On her 6 years of experience on the city council
I don’t have a typical political background; I grew up in poverty, I still lived at home when I ran for office, I still do to this day, I wasn’t involved in a political party. So, my approach to the position is very unique. It’s much more of a value-based approach that comes from a place of service versus issue-based or seeking to create a legacy. My approach in learning how to fit that to the role has been really challenging, but also very rewarding and empowering.
On Mayor Mike Duggan’s blight proposal
Everyone wants to feel safe, right? Everyone wants to live next to a neighbor or a family in a house that’s occupied, so I think there’s a need to continue to demolish property. However, we have to make sure that its done in the most equitable way. What that means and what we’re fighting for is to make sure that if this bond proposal goes forward, that Detroiters essentially have priority to be able to purchase those homes and rehab them. That they have priority in being able to buy those side lots. That they have priority in terms of the new land use programs and policies that we develop, and that really is about equity.
On trust in government
I think trust and transparency in government is very important, especially given the city’s history with previous elected officials and corruption. For me, making sure that there’s transparency in everything that we do and that residents can trust us is really important.