"It wasn't enough to try and free the resources," Sperling said. "We had to make sure they are well-used and targeted."
The gathering follows a series of meetings with the White House to plot ways to pull Detroit from a fiscal pit that this summer made it the largest U.S. city to file for bankruptcy protection.
Detroit has had a poor record in making sure grant money is used properly and even spent at all.
In 2011, Mayor Dave Bing fired the director of the city's Human Services Department after an internal investigation revealed $200,000 intended for poor residents was spent on office furniture for staff members.
The following year, his office had to scramble to use about $20 million in grants that had been left sitting for demolitions of thousands of vacant houses. The city's Police Department also allowed a $400,000 grant to lapse for a new armored vehicle.
The grant troubles have rankled Kevyn Orr, the emergency manager Gov. Rick Snyder appointed to lead the city out of its financial mess. Orr has said Detroit is so poor that it can't afford to lose out on any resources.
Grants only can pay for things the city otherwise couldn't afford. Several businesses even pitched in $8 million earlier this year to help pay for a new fleet of emergency vehicles, including 23 EMS units and 100 police cars, to boost public safety and reduce response times.
Police Chief James Craig said Thursday that he was in Washington a few weeks ago in search of federal resources for his department.
"Our work together is critical in achieving our goals of making Detroit a safe city and providing the necessary resources in raising the morale of our most valuable asset, our people," Craig said.
Detroit is in bad shape and even millions in federal grants "probably will not be enough to help fix things," said Bridgette Shephard, 47, a social worker who lives in Detroit.