Mary Waters is one of two at-large members of the council. Voters elected her in 2021. Before that she served three terms in the Michigan House of Representatives. In 2003, she became the first Black woman to become the Democratic Party’s floor leader in the House.
When she looks back at 2023, Waters says she’s proud of the work she did to help Detroit residents find affordable housing.
“We managed to work with the mayor to establish a $203 million housing initiative fund,” she said.
Two things grew out of that fund: a downpayment assistance program and an independent call center for people with questions about housing.
Waters also helped establish the Ca’Maya Davis Family Resource Center to help residents facing housing emergencies. Ca’Maya Davis was an 11-month-old girl who died in 2018. Waters says the girl fell through a hole in the floor of the home where her family was staying.
“She fell through that hole into the basement and died in water and feces,” Waters says. “No child should have to live that way.”
Land Value Tax is a non-starter
Though Waters says she and her team have a strong working relationship with Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan, she opposes one of Duggan’s key projects — the establishment of a land value tax (LVT) on vacant property. The mayor presented it to the Legislature, which must approve any changes in the city’s tax structure before residents could vote on it.
Duggan has said the LVT would raise taxes on vacant land while giving homeowners a break. Waters says it won’t work.
“State law says there has to be uniformity,” she says. “You cannot increase taxes on one [group] and not increase them on others.”
Waters also worries that the LVT would create a shortfall in other parts of the budget and cause the city to increase its income tax to pay for it. She would rather see the state reduce property taxes across the board.
“We don’t want something that’s for Detroit only,” she said.
Housing and jobs are critical
Waters says her goal for 2024 is to ensure all Detroiters have a place to live.
“If we continue to grow the homeless population, I just don’t know what that’s going to lead to,” she said. “That means working with HUD [the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development] and MSHDA [Michigan State Housing Development Authority].”
Waters also wants to ensure city residents have job opportunities. She chairs the council’s Skilled Trades Task Force.
“We’ve managed to employ a number of people,” she says. “Sometimes they get to start work the very next day.”
Use the media player above for the full interview with Detroit Councilwoman Mary Waters.