“They Don’t Hear Us”: Detroiters Want A Seat at the Table in Allocating Federal Relief Money

Home repair, housing affordability and overassessed Detroit property taxes are the chief complaints of the Charlevoix Village Association.

Amy Senese
Amy Senese

The City of Detroit has a plan to spend over $800 million in American Rescue Plan money. It’s part of the effort by Congress and the Biden administration to provide aid to communities affected by the coronavirus pandemic.

So far, Detroit has allocated about $50 million in contracts, including $30 million for residential roof repairs.

Recently, community activists shut down Woodward Avenue at Grand Circus Park to protest how City Council and the Duggan administration plan to spend the federal money.

Toyia Watts, the president of the Charlevoix Village Association, says the voices of Detroiters are not being heard and that’s why protests are necessary.

“Every time we get on a phone call with these so-called council people that we, every district put these people to sit at the table for us. They don’t hear us and they sold us out when it came to the ARP money,” Watts says. “The $30 million that we’ve been waiting and waiting for for home repair is a joke and a slap in the face and disrespect for people that’s been here.”

The City of Detroit held dozens of meetings in the short comment period before Mayor Mike Duggan and Detroit City Council finalized a plan to spend the money. 

Listen: Toyia Watts, president of the Charlevoix Village Association, says residents aren’t being heard.

Watts says she places the blame on both the City Council and Mayor Mike Duggan. 

“We got so many black hats sitting at the table. Isn’t it a shame? We talk about Kwame (former mayor Kilpatrick). Here we go again. … Don’t make me no promises that you won’t bring me a piece of candy and that candy never gets here. So stop lying to the people. It takes a team and we don’t have a team down there fighting for us what we need back in our community. Home repair, affordability and overtax. That’s the three main issues we are fighting for.”

Amy Senese
Amy Senese

When it comes to repairing relationships between city officials and residents, Watts says residents can’t even get a seat at the table.

“They don’t want to hear the people that’s been out here fighting. We didn’t ask for this (people moving out of the city and neighborhoods) to happen to our neighborhood. It [still] happened.”

Duggan recently announced a new program to repair 1,000 roofs with federal relief money. Watts says residents weren’t asked about what they need. Instead, she says, the administration is telling them that they were outvoted on things like weatherization, insulation and over-repairing roofs.

“You don’t know what I need. You haven’t been at my home. You haven’t talked to me. You don’t live with me. But you’re gonna tell me all you got to give out is a roof,” she says. “[Duggan sounds] like a dictator, telling us what we need for our homes. Some people might need a furnace, a hot water tank, windows — I don’t know it might not need a roof.”

“[The main issue:] We are not sitting at the table.”

Editor’s Note: The City of Detroit is hosting its annual public budget meeting on Thursday, Oct. 21. The goal of the charter-mandated meeting is to open up a dialogue with residents about how the city might spend its money in the next fiscal year.

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  • Russ McNamara
    Russ McNamara is the host of All Things Considered for 101.9 WDET, presenting local news to the station’s loyal listeners. He's been an avid listener of WDET since he moved to metro Detroit in 2002.