Detroit's biggest problems can be resolved with community control, technology, public/private programs and partnerships; crowd-funding and a little help from Gov. Rick Snyder. Here are my ideas:
1. Reduce crime by using technology. Crime is considered by many people as the No. 1 problem in Detroit. However, if communities establish Business Improvement Districts and Special Assessment District within the new City Council districts, the communities can control or reduce crime by 90 percent or eliminate it completely by using a Community Information System. CIS uses an intranet system that the entire block or community is logged into which has cameras on houses and light poles to track movement in the community. Deterrent face recognition technology can be used, provided a warning sign that says "Legal notice: Face recognition and license plate search cameras are operable." A CIS can also be used for social entrepreneurship (i.e. babysitting, grass cutting, etc.) and community information (lost pets, announcements, etc.). We need a grant to institute face recognition technology.
2. Syndicate street lighting and include in Low Income Housing Tax Credits. Detroit cannot use depreciation and tax credits but investors can. As part of a CIS, smart light poles can be installed and leased to the city at a reduced cost. For starters, solar panels can eliminate high utility costs and the infrastructure can in many cases be fully paid for using MSHDA Low Income Housing Tax Credits on scattered site developments along with federal energy credits. This can also be done through affordable syndication using crowd-funding. We should also look into solar panel farms on vacant blocks (with security cameras and electronic charged fences); the communities or SADs can fully pay for the lights and actually make a profit thereafter selling the surplus electricity to the city. The big issue here is whether or not we have enough sunlight in the Midwest for surplus sales and whether or not the governor would restore Detroit set aside for LIHTC's.
3. Create market driven education alternatives.
- First, since parents want either private schools, or a suburban school system or a charter school as an alternative to Detroit Public Schools, DPS should consider a 100 percent charter system as a brand even if the charter schools are owned and controlled by DPS in the short term. DPS could spend their time aligning corporate sponsorships with the schools, i.e General Motors, Compuware, Chase, Quicken Loans, Pulte and others could adopt schools and offer their programs. In other words give the corporations a vehicle to help with – roll out the red carpet of opportunity and they will respond.
- Second, instead of requiring the students to conform to the normal school environment, DPS should offer alternative learning environments using technology. Give children who have dropped out of school a place to go and do their daily homework required to earn them a GED or a diploma. There are plenty of vacant school buildings, but most of them may not be attractive. Try mixing socializing along with retail, and a recording studio after homework as an incentive and we will have a winner. A place like Tower Center or the Mammoth building on Grand River and Greenfield would be ideal. I'm sure there are also other attractive places.
4. Create revenue growth with citizens. No matter what happens with crime and education, Detroit needs new dynamic revenue growth. We can find that growth among our citizens by using the DNA we Detroiters were born with: entrepreneurship. The city can provide an entrepreneur fund, municipal partnerships and incentive grants. We should also look at privatization using newly formed public companies. Add crowd-funding to allow people that want to help, and we have a formula for success. Examples are:
- A bottling plant in a joint venture with the water board. A Pepsi bottling plant on Mack produces bottle water that is sold around the world; last year sales were over $4 billion from water produced at the facility. A joint venture with the water board can produce affordable financing and market-driven sales.
- DEGC is issuing seven $50,000 grants for national full service sit-down restaurants serving spirits. Target one in each council district. Note: Detroit has only two (Hard Rock downtown and Chili's on Southfield and Ford Road). We are the only major American city in this predicament. Why? Because of shrinkage and service. In order to overcome this we can work with churches to hire qualified, honest workers. An RFP with a startup grant will produce results.
- A housing plant as part of a joint venture with a major manufacturing home builder and DPS. Detroit could energize our home-building efforts by creating a housing plant to produce quality homes off the assembly line and teach trades. There are two issues – unions and sales tax. There are 20 major home manufacturers along the border of Indiana and Michigan; they feed off the Michigan market but do not want to come across state line because they do not want their operations in other states unionized. Also, Michigan charges a sales tax on the completed house, and Indiana does not. Perhaps the unions would consider backing off and training their future members and perhaps the governor would back legislation to eliminate sales taxes on manufactured housing in conjunction with schools.
- A newly formed public company between an experienced contractor and employees bidding on a public service jobs like garbage pickup, street cleaning, water services and demolition. The profits would be capitalized and instead of getting a profit sharing check for say $5,000 the price of the shares would increase by $100,000 -$200,000 depending if there was a growth component for good services. This could empower thousands of Detroiters. Perhaps our emergency manager would consider this model and add points to RFPs that include Detroit citizens' joint ventures with major companies.
5. Ask for Hope VI or HUD funds for Blight and Community Development: Other than federal demolition grants, the city should ask for more Hope VI funds and ask the governor to restore Detroit allocation of MSHDA set-asides, which he personally took away and has the sole power to restore. Detroit needs affordable houses to shrink its size. People, especially seniors, cannot afford to move off their street and Detroit cannot afford to properly service them.
6. Peacefully settle with banks. Create banks community development fund in lieu of lawsuit. Use funds to foster community improvement competition and create CIS's. The great real estate fraud hit Detroiters harder than any other American city and banks are responsible – let's settle!
7. Clear the way for Special Assessment Districts and Business Improvement Districts.
8. Insurance. SADs and BIDs can buy blanket policies to reduce costs. Real simple.