MLaw grad, senior counsel to Mayor Duggan, gives an inside look at Detroit's revitalization

By Lori Atherton
U-M Law

Detroit is a city built for two million people, but less than 700,000 residents live here.

The declining population has led to blighted neighborhoods and negatively impacted transportation and education, but Detroit is making strides in addressing those issues, said Eli Savit, who became senior adviser and counsel to Mayor Mike Duggan in June.

“The ethos in the mayor’s office is geared toward problem-solving and using every lever we can use to get results,” said Savit, whose October 25 visit to Michigan Law offered an inside look at initiatives aimed at improving the city. The event was sponsored by Michigan Law’s JDs in the D.

Noting that Detroit is out of bankruptcy and that, for the first time in years, “the city has some money to spend,” Savit said one of Duggan’s top priorities is demolishing blighted structures.

“Some of our neighborhoods look like ghost towns,” he said. “What you have are three or four occupied houses in a neighborhood, and right next to them are a series of dilapidated houses, which are magnets for arson and crime.

“From the city’s perspective, that depresses property values, which, in turn, decreases the tax base and hampers the ability of the city to pay for basic services.”

Demolishing decaying homes and buildings not only increases the quality of life for people living in those neighborhoods, but also increases property values, Savit said.

So far, the city has razed more than 10,000 dilapidated structures and plans to tear down another 10,000 thanks to a $128 million federal grant.

Also on the mayor’s agenda is fighting crime. While Detroit’s homicide rate is down, both fatal and non-fatal shootings remain far too high, Savit said.

 In an effort to deter crime, the Detroit Police Department (DPD), through Project Green Light, is partnering with gas stations, party stores, and other businesses to install high-definition cameras capable of providing continuous video streaming in real time to the DPD.

In addition, the DPD is working to reduce gang violence through Ceasefire Detroit, which works directly with gang members to let them know they are being watched and that continued shootings will result in prosecution.

It also offers gang members resources that will help them succeed outside of gang life, such as job training programs, substance abuse counseling, and education.

Another initiative the mayor is focusing on is transportation, including the possibility of building a light-rail system that would make neighborhood stops.

 “It’s hard to offer bus services in a neighborhood that only has a few residents, so Detroiters are often isolated from the services they need,” Savit said.

“We’re exploring what 21st century transportation looks like, so that an elderly grandmother is able to get that last mile home from the bus stop, or from the bus stop to the doctor’s office.”

During his visit, Savit also highlighted a new partnership between the City of Detroit and Michigan Law focused on litigation advocacy.

Offered in winter 2017, the Detroit Litigation Advocacy Workshop, or DLAW, is a research-oriented course that will provide students with a unique opportunity to help shape the City of Detroit’s public-interest litigation program.

Each student will be responsible for researching litigation options available to the city on various topics, such as consumer protection, housing, or nuisance abatement. The final product will be a “white paper” describing how the city might use litigation to tackle problems in those areas.

“What are the causes of action the city has to go after people who are ripping off the citizens of Detroit? Can we use the court system as a lever to get better educational outcomes for kids? These are the kinds of things we’ll be exploring during the first semester,” said Savit, who, along with Professor Julian Davis Mortenson, will be teaching the course.

“The work that will be done is going to be incredibly valuable to the City of Detroit.”

Savit earned his J.D. magna cum laude in 2010 from Michigan Law.

He was a law clerk for the Hon. Carlos T. Bea in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, for the Hon. David S. Tatel in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, and for Justices Sandra Day O’Connor and Ruth Bader Ginsburg at the Supreme Court of the United States.