Tlaib wants ‘real’ Detroit community benefits for Fiat Chrysler deal

Detroit City Council President Brenda Jones, Mayor Mike Duggan and Gov. Gretchen Whitmer at FCA announcement, Feb. 26, 2019 | Ken Coleman

U.S. Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Detroit) on Tuesday praised the Fiat Chrysler Automotive-city of Detroit announcement of a new assembly factory to build Jeeps on the city’s lower east side. However, she also wants the community to involved in its planning and benefit from the jobs created.  

Rashida Tlaib at the Women’s March in Detroit, Jan. 19, 2019 | Ken Coleman

FCA is expected to invest $1.6 billion to convert the current Mack Avenue Engine Complex into a vehicle assembly plant to produce Jeep Grand Cherokees and hybrid SUVs. Construction of the new facility could begin in the second quarter of this year. There also would be $900 million to modernize the FCA Jefferson North plant.

There are a total of five new plants in the works in Southeast Michigan, as the Advance has reported. The $4.5 billion investment is expected to produce about 6,500 jobs, with almost 5,000 of them in Detroit, according to city and FCA officials.

“Fiat Chrysler is making the right move in bringing more jobs to the city of Detroit and the metro Detroit region,” Tlaib said. “You won’t find a better host community. My only hope is that we not just focus on jobs, but also opportunities for the nearby neighborhoods to thrive with this expansion.”

Tlaib said she hopes FCA considers a “real community benefits agreement that addresses the need for programs for youth, increases home ownership, reduces carbon emissions, among other needed initiatives.” She said that would “ensure a true win-win development for all those impacted.”

The Community Benefits Ordinance (CBO) is a city law that requires developers to engage with the community to identify community benefits and address potential negative impacts of certain development projects. Residents began clamoring for a law after the city started landing big projects like the Little Caesars Arena.

The measure known as Proposal B — which was backed by Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan, businesses and some unions — was approved by Detroit voters in 2016. Tlaib fought for an alternative measure, Proposal A, which had the support of progressives and neighborhood activists, but failed.

“We see this as a victory in so many ways because we now have a provision that at least talks about community benefits,” Tlaib told the Detroit Free Press after Proposal B’s passage. “We were tired of being ignored. We sent a really loud message.”

Mayor Mike Duggan at FCA announcement, Feb. 26, 2019 | Ken Coleman

When projects trigger the CBO process, a Neighborhood Advisory Council is established with nine representatives from the project’s impact area to work directly with the developer and establish community benefits, which are included in the final development agreement approved by the Detroit City Council.

Duggan said that this project will be the largest city development deal since the implementation of the Community Benefits Agreement ordinance.

“This is a day that we’ve been working on for more than a year,” said Duggan. “We’re the first auto plant built in the United States in more a decade.”

City Council President Brenda Jones, who Tlaib defeated in the August Democratic primary for a full congressional term, also praised the deal.

Janee Ayers

“We have to engage the community,” said Jones, who fought vigorously for community benefits.

“And we will be engaging the community,” Jones added. “We will continue to work with community to make sure that the community is involved.”

Nine people will be selected from the neighborhood by City Council and Duggan’s office. They will have meetings to discuss the development.

“I would guess that within two weeks we’re going to see the first neighborhood advisory meeting.” Duggan said.  

The project falls in District 4, notes Janee Ayers, a citywide elected member of the Detroit City Council. She said there are “some really wonderful people who live in the direct impact area.

“I know that they will get the job done,” Ayers added. “What we’re doing is making sure that the company understands the expectations of the community. Be upfront with our citizens but also provide them, to the best of their ability, what they can contribute to the neighborhood.”

As part of the proposed deal, the city of Detroit will demonstrate within 60 days that it has obtained binding agreements to deliver title to the Mack site within the timeframe and conditions required to construct a new assembly plant and other facilities. The community benefits and impacts would be included in a final development agreement to be approved by the Detroit City Council.

“Over the next two months, we will be out in the neighborhoods every day working with the residents to make this happen for our city,” Duggan said. “Most importantly, we’re going to bring these 5,000 jobs to Detroit without displacing a single resident.”

Ken Coleman covers Southeast Michigan, economic justice and civil rights. He is a former Michigan Chronicle senior editor and served as the American Black Journal segment host on Detroit Public Television. He has written and published four books on black life in Detroit, including Soul on Air: Blacks Who Helped to Define Radio in Detroit and Forever Young: A Coleman Reader. His work has been cited by the Detroit News, Detroit Free Press, History Channel and CNN. Additionally, he was an essayist for the award-winning book, Detroit 1967: Origins, Impacts, Legacies. Ken has served as a spokesperson for the Michigan Democratic Party, Detroit Public Schools, U.S. Sen. Gary Peters and U.S. Rep. Brenda Lawrence. Previously to joining the Advance, he worked for the Detroit Federation of Teachers as a communications specialist. He is a Historical Society of Michigan trustee and a Big Brothers Big Sisters of Metropolitan Detroit advisory board member.
Nick Manes is a former Michigan Advance reporter, covering West Michigan, business and labor, health care and the safety net. He previously spent six years as a reporter at MiBiz covering commercial real estate, economic development and all manner of public policy at the local and state levels.



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