Detroit Regional Chamber > Detroit Policy Conference > Detroit’s Last Word: A Conversation With City Council Members

Detroit’s Last Word: A Conversation With City Council Members

January 16, 2024

Key Takeaways

  • The Detroit City Council members echoed a focus on job training initiatives and small business support demonstrates a commitment to cultivating a diverse and skilled workforce. 
  • The Council is committed to welcoming opportunities that provide housing, jobs, and resources, reflecting a comprehensive approach to city development, aiming to appeal to a diverse population and contribute to the city’s overall growth. 
  • Council members put emphasis on mixed-income communities in neighborhoods contributes to the overall goal of population growth and fosters a strong community culture. 

View the session recording below.

Throughout the Detroit Policy Conference closing discussion, Detroit City Council members emphasized the importance of affordable housing, job creation, and equitable development to support the theme of “Growing Michigan’s Population.” The members included Mary Sheffield, the Council President and representing member of District 5, Detroit City Councilman Scott Benson of District 3, Councilwoman Latisha Johnson of District 4, Gabriela Santiago-Romero, City Councilwoman of District 6, and Coleman A. Young II, Member At-Large. The moderator was Dennis W. Archer Jr., Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Sixteen42 Ventures. The councilmembers discussed initiatives such as affordable living in luxury developments, transit-oriented development, and the inclusion of affordable housing in major projects for 2024.

Mary Sheffield, Council President, highlighted the transformative legislation passed during the last term, particularly focusing on property tax reform. This reform not only aims to make property taxes more understandable for residents but also ensures fairness and provides free legal counsel for those facing property assessment issues. The emphasis on affordability and equitable development aligns with the goal of retaining a diverse, long-term population in Detroit. Sheffield also mentioned major projects like Project 34 and the Water Square Project, showcasing the city’s commitment to significant initiatives that can boost the local economy and advocate for equity.

Councilman Scott Benson of District 3 emphasized the importance of jobs and the establishment of a task force to address the needs of low-income families. By strategically investing in areas such as Banglatown and Regional Park, the council aims to create job opportunities, increase housing prices, and improve neighborhood amenities. The focus on responding to his constituents need for recreation centers, cricket pitches, and the like demonstrates a holistic approach to community development he hopes to make the Region more attractive.

Latisha Johnson, representing District 4, highlighted the unique challenges and opportunities presented by the redistricting process. Acknowledging the previous population loss in her district, Johnson emphasized the tremendous potential for development. She emphasized the importance of balance in development, catering to lower-income families, middle-income families, and even attracting upper-income families. The focus on neighborhood commercial development, combined with the upcoming developer summit, indicates a proactive approach to ensuring that residents are involved in the development process and have access to job opportunities within their communities.

Gabriela Santiago-Romero, Councilwoman of District 6, discussed the diverse geography of District 6, which includes downtown, midtown, and other areas. As a social worker and community organizer, Santiago-Romero emphasized sustainable development that goes beyond aesthetic improvements. Her focus on including housing, transportation, and job opportunities in tandem with new developments reflects a commitment to creating a city that meets the needs of both current and future residents. The advocacy for affordable retail and a culture of supporting smaller developers aligns with the broader goal of creating a Detroit that is accessible and welcoming to everyone.

Member At-Large, Coleman A. Young II highlighted the importance of affordable housing in luxury developments, transit-oriented development, and small business support. The recognition of projects that offer affordable living in luxury developments underscores the city’s commitment to inclusive growth. Young’s emphasis on making it easier for small businesses to start and thrive aligns with the goal of creating job opportunities and supporting entrepreneurs. Additionally, the mention of training programs for blue-collar jobs contributes to building a skilled and diverse workforce.

In closing of their panel, moderator Dennis Archer Jr. Asked the councilmembers to share words of wisdom for young people inspired to participate in the rebirth of Detroit. Sheffield encouraged individuals to identify their passions and align them with the issues they care about, emphasizing that service doesn’t always require a title or position and that she “…believe[s] that we owe something to service. I believe it’s the rent that you pay for the space that we occupy.” Benson highlighted that through public service, in a variety of ways, young people can make necessary, community-altering decisions, saying “There are councils, there’s boards, commissions, there’s so many other ways… If you want to encourage people to do this, ensure they understand that you have the ability to be decision-makers.”