Detroit Future City’s Field Guide to Working with Lots Mini-Grant Program

Detroit Future City (DFC) is excited to launch year-three of the Working with Lots Mini-Grant Program, which aims to accelerate vacant land revitalization in Detroit using the Field Guide to Working with Lots.

The program encourages community groups, faith-based institutions, non-profits, and businesses to install one of 35 lot designs to address stormwater concerns, activate community spaces and create more attractive neighborhoods.

This January, DFC will award 10 grants for a combined maximum amount of $95,000. Four applicants will be award up to $6,500 to transform vacant land in their neighborhood. Six applicants will be granted up to $13,000 to implement Field Guide lot designs that improve stormwater management, and qualify for stormwater drainage credits. Funds are allocated for installation, maintenance, programming, and related educational materials. Grantees will receive technical assistance to help them achieve their open space vision.

Click here to apply now!

In the Media

Welcome to an American City Where the Government Barely Exists

Aaron Mondry, from Splinter News, highlights the challenges that Highland Park faces, and uses information from DFC’s 139 Square Mile report to rethink ways to adaptively reuse the city’s substantial vacant industrial buildings.

Welcome to an American City Where the Government Barely Exists
By:Aaron Mondry
Splinter News
September 22, 2017

On Woodward Avenue in Highland Park, Michigan, a historical marker stands in front of a derelict industrial building. It reads, “Here at his Highland Park Plant, Henry Ford in 1913 began the mass production of automobiles on a moving assembly line…Mass production soon moved from here to all phases of American industry and set the pattern of abundance for 20th Century living.”

In the 21st century, however, that “pattern of abundance” is absent in Highland Park, a three-square-mile city nestled in the middle of the much-larger Detroit that has become one of the most economically depressed places in America. The list of difficulties it faces is uniquely long and dire.

The city, which reached its peak population of nearly 53,000 in the 1930s, is home to just over 10,000 residents today. Its industrial base eroded with the departure of Ford and later Chrysler. Highland Park’s last high school closed in 2015, and the system is under emergency financial management. Like Detroit, many Highland Park residents have endured water shutoffs, but with far less media attention. In 2011, DTE Energy repossessed around 1,400 residential street lights, literally removing them from the ground because of a $4 million unpaid bill.

The city itself was under emergency financial management for nine years beginning in 2000— the longest duration of any city in Michigan—and a city administrator, reporting to the state’s Treasury Department, now oversees its finances. But after all these years, the budget is still perilously uncertain due to a $26 million lawsuit filed by the city of Detroit, which claims that Highland Park hasn’t paid its water bills (while, ironically, under emergency financial management) after closing its treatment plant and switching over to Detroit’s water system.

Crime, blight, and poverty are all entangled in this mess, both cause and consequence of a gutted school system, absence of streetlights, and an inability to provide anything beyond the most basic services.

“We’re providing good services as best we can,” Mayor Hubert Yopp says, “but at this point, because of our minimal budget, we can’t afford the equipment we need to do a better job.”

Highland Park’s government, in other words, seems to barely exist. When the lawsuit filed by the city of Detroit was first announced, there was talk that the city of Highland Park might dissolve entirely. And until the court case is resolved, there isn’t much the mayor can actively do. He does have people training block club presidents in grant writing and rebates for things like home repairs. He also had the Tax Increment Financing Authority Board of Directors create a long-term plan for the city.

But Highland Park residents have problems that need to be addressed immediately. Though they understand the state of their cash-strapped city, they’re impatient. So they’re providing for themselves and community what the city cannot, by dreaming up impossibly ambitious projects.

They just wish the city would dream alongside them.

No one exemplifies this attitude more than Shamayim Harris. From the porch of her house on Avalon Street, you can see construction crews renovating the interiors of shipping containers on an adjacent lot, and adding geothermal heating and cooling systems to a house halfway down the block. About a decade ago, the block was full of blight—now, there’s life.

Harris, a 51-year-old Highland Park native and a reserve officer with the Highland Park Police Department, is an imposing-looking African American woman with broad-shoulders and an angular jaw. She’s known by everyone as “Mama Shu” and either hugs or waves to anyone who passes by her house.

She’s also the “mama” of the block—Harris owns 29 properties on Avalon Street, which she’s in the process of converting into the holistic and sustainable Avalon Village. “The whole thing, everything, is connected together and here to uplift, serve, and cater to the community,” Harris says.

Shamayim Harris on her porch in Highland Park. Credit: Ali Lapetina

The initial shipping containers will become the Goddess Marketplace, a pop-up retail space for women entrepreneurs to sell their goods. The house under renovation will become the Homework House, an after-school center for children, where they’ll have access to a meal, tutors, a computer lab, and showers. Harris calls it “a home before they get home.”

There will also be basketball courts, a park, a wellness center, a greenhouse, and a vegetarian cafe.

For years Harris had been eyeing the blighted Avalon Street, wanting to fix it up somehow, but not having the means to do it. In 2007, her two-year-old son Jakobi was killed in an automobile hit and run. The tragedy seemed to unleash something in her, and ever since, she’s pursued Avalon Village with an unrelenting zeal.

Six months after her son’s death, one of the houses went up for sale for $3,000 and she bought it with some meager savings, a tax income check, and a loan from a friend. For a time, Harris and her daughter slept on a mattress on the floor in the unfurnished house that didn’t have heat or running water.

Mama Shu’s house on Avalon Street in Highland Park. Credit: Ali Lapetina

Even during the darkest days, Harris says, “Doubt never crept in… After my son died, I was like, ‘I’m doing this. Nothing can hold me back.’ I wasn’t afraid of anything because that was the worst fear I ever had.”

Just last year Harris started getting attention from donors and national media outlets. The Big Sun Foundation gave her a $100,000 grant. A successful crowdfunding campaign raised $243,690. She was even a guest on The Ellen DeGeneres Show where she was gifted a Cocoon9 home valued at $100,000 slated to be the village’s “city hall.”

Mayor Yopp—who is serving his second non-consecutive term after losing re-election in 2012, but winning in 2016—says he’s “proud of what she’s doing.” And on the whole, Harris feels supported by the city. But she’s still a little bitter about one incident.

In 2014, Harris erected a solar-powered street light in Avalon Village’s Jakobi Ra Park—the first residential street light installed by the Highland Park-based Soulardarity. Though she had been cleaning up the lot for eight years, she didn’t actually own it when the light was installed. The city tabled her request to purchase the lot for a year before selling it to her, but also fined her $1,000.

“It just seemed backwards to me,” Harris says. “This whole city doesn’t have lights, and we figured out how to get one and got in trouble for it.”

A similar ambivalence about the mayor and his government was expressed by many Highland Park residents, who feel the city is taking some positive steps, but, as with Avalon Village’s solar-powered street light, missing easy wins along the way.

In appearance and background, Jackson Koeppel couldn’t be more different than Mama Shu. Koeppel, who grew up in Manhattan, is a bony white man in his mid-20s. His father writes history books and his mother was a music publicist.

“I come from a high degree of class privilege,” Koeppel admits.

But he’s as dedicated to Highland Park as anyone. After dropping out of college, he protested mountaintop removal in West Virginia, and eventually came to Highland Park through a Green Economy Leadership Training program. He soon fell in love with the ingenuity and resilience of its people.

After extensive conversations with residents, he co-founded Soulardarity in 2012. The democratic, membership-based nonprofit, of which he is the executive director, has installed six street lights so far, which can come with a suite of functions like brightening as the day fades and a mesh network router that both connects to other lights and provides internet. The lights are also not connected to the power grid and remain on during outages—a feature which matters to residents who had their lights taken away.

But Koeppel and Soulardarity made an important realization in the five years from when they installed their first street light to today: It’s incredibly difficult to scale a membership model. They need a city-wide contract to build the lights to illuminate all of Highland Park.

That’s why Soulardarity made a proposal to install 1,000 of them, which would be owned by the city and make Highland Park the first U.S. city completely lit with solar lights. Citing a feasibility study his organization did with the Cooperation Group, Koeppel claims solar lights will save the city millions of dollars in the long term from reduced energy and maintenance bills. But because the city would have to rebuild its light infrastructure anyway, the difference in upfront cost would be negligible—$5.8 million versus $5.7 million.

Mayor Yopp says the city’s lights were repossessed because they had to drastically reduce their monthly lighting bills from about $90,000 to $15,000. Given the uncertainty with the water lawsuit, he adds, “The current budget cannot afford [Koeppel’s] prices.”

But because they’re a green energy nonprofit, Koeppel says it’s possible to reduce the upfront price tag through rebates and grants, and wants to work with the city to raise those funds. But to secure money from funders, his organization needs some form of verbal or written support from the city. It hasn’t come.

“What I hear our members saying is that they get it—they understand the city’s capacity is strapped,” Koeppel says. “But that’s not good enough. We want to work with the city in problem solving…We feel they can create support structures and encourage innovation instead of saying, ‘We don’t have time for that right now.’”

On Buena Vista, a street so potholed it’s nearly gravel, a successful crowdfunding campaign raised more than $10,000 for another Soulardarity street light on the site of a former elementary school. It’s one of the first steps, after cleaning up dozens of tires and a veritable forest of trees and weeds, in transforming the abandoned Thompson Elementary School into Parker Village, another mini-city rooted in technology and renewable energy.

Juan Shannon, founder of Parker Village, was moved after seeing Midtown Detroit’s Green Garage, a business incubator that incorporates green building design into practically every feature. But unlike with Avalon Village, you have to close your eyes to see the finished product at Parker Village.

The intersection of Buena Vista Street and Second Ave in Highland Park.

Shannon’s plan calls for an aquaponics garden and garden cafe in the playground, an electric vehicle charging station, a state-of-the-art event center, STEAM lab, coworking space, and offices for his entertainment company, Modern Tribe.

The elementary school was never secured after closing and scrappers gutted the building. But that’s not a problem for Shannon, who would have to redo all the plumbing and electrical because of his plans to build solar panels on the roof, radiant floors inside to disperse heat, and a recycled-water plumbing system that pipes it back into the irrigation.

Though he’ll eventually need to put millions of dollars into the building, given the progress Harris has made with her village, who’s to say Shannon can’t eventually do the same with his. And he’s not waiting on the city for financial support.

“Highland Park is going through its own problems,” Shannon says, “so we’re not really pulling on them to help us get started. But they’ve been supportive, come to a couple of chats and events I’ve had on ground.”

Aaron’s Jewelry and Loan, a pawn shop off of Woodward Avenue in Highland Park. Credit: Ali Lapetina

Robert Onnes, however, has some real beef with the city.

The middle-aged New Zealander first took up metal sculpting in 2005 after a career in electrical engineering. He sold some large sculptures and didn’t need the 10-year window he gave himself to be a successful artist, but felt hampered by the lack of affordable studio space in his country.

“I lived in a country with phenomenally expensive real-estate, like San Francisco,” he says. “Moving to a city at opposite end of the spectrum made sense to me.”

So Robert and his wife moved to Detroit in 2012 after reading about its arts scene in the Economist.

“You only get one life, you gotta make it work,” Onnes says. “You don’t want to be sitting on your deathbed thinking, ‘I should have done that.’”

While looking for a small personal studio, he ended up buying a 23,000-square-foot former stamping plant in Highland Park on Midland Street, which can be located by its hand-drawn sign off Hamilton Street. Now 333 Midland, it’s a gallery and studio space for 20 artists of various mediums.

Onnes says at first relations were fine with the city. For a time, he had to personally go to city hall and remind them to send water bills. “We had a lot of freedom up until we came to their notice,” Onnes says. “We pretended they weren’t there and that worked fine for us.”

Then earlier this year, he got a letter saying 333 Midland wasn’t up to code and it would have to cease operations immediately. He took care of the minor matters the fire marshall requested, like installing exit signs and extra fire extinguishers. But he still can’t get a clear answer from the building inspector about what else needs to be taken care of. This past July, Highland Park reinstated its Building Department for the first time in 15 years.

Onnes thinks Highland Park is missing out on a huge opportunity, citing a recent report from Detroit Future City, a strategic planning organization, which proposes ways to adaptively reuse the city’s substantial vacant industrial buildings. The arts features heavily in its recommendations. Again, it seems to be a case of the city getting in its own way.

Click here to read the full article.

In the Media

Summit shows Detroiters how to prepare for and garner support for neighborhood growth

Article Summary
The HUB Detroit interviewed Luther King, executive director of Arise Detroit, about the Neighborhood Summit, a Detroit Future City sponsored event that helps residents gain access to information about how they can harness development interest and investments in their neighborhoods.

Opportunity Knocks: Summit shows Detroiters how to prepare for and garner support for neighborhood growth
By: The HUB
The Hub Detroit

You know your neighborhood can “be” and “do” better, but getting the necessary resources to support improvement efforts can be challenging even for the most organized block clubs and community organizations in the city.

It’s challenging, but not impossible, says Luther Keith, the executive director of ARISE Detroit! Detroit, a coalition of 400 neighborhood community organizations.

ARISE Detroit’s Executive Luther Keith stands at the helm of one of the largest grassroots gathering of neighborhood leaders informally known as the “Neighborhoods Summit.” This year’s event is expected to draw a record crowd of participants hungry to gain access to information about how they can harness development interest and investments in their neighborhoods.

 “We ‘get’ the difficulties,” emphasizes Keith. “That’s why we created an event to give Detroit residents the tools to overcome the typical challenges that many grassroots and community organizations face. That’s the motivation around our upcoming Creating Neighborhoods of Opportunity summit at Wayne County Community College District (WCCCD).”

The summit, which will be held Saturday, Nov. 4, will feature discussions on steering development to improve neighborhoods as well as promote inclusive and diverse opportunities for job training and neighborhood entrepreneurship.

Click here to read the full article.

In the Media

The Buck Stops Here!

Detroit Black Young Professionals examine the socio-economic status of African Americans in Detroit, and references employment data from Detroit Future City’s Strategic Framework.

The Buck Stops Here!
Detroit Black Youth Professionals
September 2017

At approximately 82 percent, the City of Detroit is home to one of the largest populations of African Americans in the United States. While African Americans account for the majority of the City’s population, they have become a dwindling minority in business ownership. This disparity brings to mind this often quoted anecdotal account of dollar circulation in different communities, “The lifespan of a dollar in the Asian community is 28 days, in the Jewish community the lifespan of a dollar is 19 days, and shockingly, the lifespan in the African-American community is approximately 6 hours”. While the validity of these figures remains to be proven this scenario seems to be closer to the truth in Detroit; which begs the question, where does the African American community spend their money? Black Young Professionals of Detroit will explore this topic and more at our “Experienced Entrepreneur Panel” event on September 8, 2017.

For the past decade there have been major developments in the city, such as, the Little Cesar’s Arena, the Q-line, and various commercial and residential developments. While these attractions are sure to bring visitors and new comers to town, the city still lacks basic amenities, like grocery stores. Of the grocers that remain in the city, none are black owned and often times sell low quality products, leading Detroiters to travel to the outskirts of the city into the suburbs to grocery shop, some by car and many by bus. Imagine the inconvenience of grocery shopping miles outside of your city’s limits and having to haul your groceries on to a bus, also, imagine taking that same bus a little bit further to get to work. This is another reality some Detroiters face. According to Detroit Future City: 2012 Detroit Strategic Framework Plan, “…61 percent of employed Detroiters work outside the city, whereas only 39 percent of employed Detroiters work within the city.” Far too many young professionals have to travel beyond their reach to access employment and basic needs. Some of these issues may be the reality of logistics living in the Motorcity or simply a lack of purposeful development.

Click here to read the full blog post.

In the Media

Detroit’s enormous underclass: The problem that’s taboo

Jack Lessenberry, from Detroit Metro Times, writes about creating a vibrant and financially secure city, using employment and population data from Detroit Future City’s 139 Square Miles report.

Detroit’s enormous underclass: The problem that’s taboo
By Jack Lessenberry
Detroit Metro Times

I was talking to Wayne County Sheriff Benny Napoleon the other day about Detroit. Napoleon is a cheerful, smart, and decent man who was the last opponent left standing when Mike Duggan was elected mayor four years ago.

Napoleon is anything but bitter. “I never at any point thought that Mike would be a bad mayor. I just thought I would be a better mayor,” he said with a laugh.

Actually, he thinks Duggan has done a mostly fine job — and is supporting him for re-election. “He has taken on one of the toughest jobs in America,” he said. “I don’t think people realize how tough the problems are.”

Napoleon, who is also a former Detroit police chief, does think Duggan should talk and do more about crime — namely, add more police officers. Response rates are faster, but he said that means officers are stretched so thin they really don’t have a chance to do much preventive policing.

Frankly, he thinks he needs the county to give him more sheriff’s deputies as well, and provide better pay and benefit packages so he can be competitive in recruiting the very best.

But I then asked him about the big elephant in the room, the one problem somehow no one talks much about: Detroit’s enormous underclass.

That’s not a pretty term, but offhand, it’s hard to think of one better. We’re talking about adults with little education and fewer job or even life skills.

These are people who may or may not be literate. Many are not in the labor force at all. They have little or no history of work; of life skills, like getting somewhere on time every day; of earning money in a taxes-deducted-from-your-check way.

Others may have just given up in despair, defeated by the economy and difficult lives, as documented by University of Michigan poverty researcher Luke Shaefer in his stirring book: $2.00 a Day: Living on Almost Nothing in America.”

Napoleon didn’t have an answer — though he agreed with my theory that something like the old Great Depression-era WPA could be used to put at least some of these folks to work.

Certainly they could be cleaning up parks and sites where buildings have been demolished, and doing other things; plus maybe learning work and lifestyle skills. But again, we don’t seem to be talking much about these folks.

Maybe that’s because we’ve been brainwashed to believe that government-created jobs are “socialism” and worthless — unless, of course, they are jobs created to potentially kill people.

Then they are the honored Armed Forces of the United States. There’s also a belief among even some liberals that we tried to help the underclass and lift them up during Lyndon Johnson’s War on Poverty, and that those efforts totally failed.

But I think we don’t make aggressive efforts to reach and help the deep underclass because we don’t have a clue how to do it, and doing so would seem too costly and too hard.

But here’s a message for Mayor Mike Duggan, assuming he defeats the hapless and underfunded Coleman Young II in November: You have to try to solve this problem.

Otherwise, Detroit’s efforts to bring itself back to anything like a normal, vibrant, financially secure city are doomed.

What’s amazing to me is, again, how virtually all futuristic visions for Detroit utterly ignore these people. Years ago, a correspondent for Time magazine blandly told me he thought if we just stopped giving them welfare, they’d go away.

Well, they aren’t going away, nor should they. Detroit may be the most studied urban area in modern times. Nevertheless, when you consider the underclass, it isn’t easy to get anything like a precise estimate of how many folks that is.

Detroit Future City, a well-regarded nonprofit corporation that grew out of the city economic development department, published an excellent report last month: 139 Square Miles with a lot of useful information.

Click here to read the full article.

In the Media

Are there two Detroits? A new report says yes, but…

Joel Kurth, from Bridge Magazine, discusses Detroit’s tax subsidies and investments, and highlights population data from Detroit Future City’s 139 Square Miles report.

Are there two Detroits? A new report says yes, but…
By: Joel Kurth
Bridge Magazine

Turns out, there could be something to perceptions about “two Detroits” after all.

The Urban Institute, a nonprofit Washington D.C. think tank, issued a report Tuesday that concludes tax subsidies in Detroit have disproportionately favored downtown and Midtown. Those areas received 57 percent of state, federal and local tax subsidy investments from 2013 to 2015, even though they only contain 46 percent of the city’s 245,000 jobs, the report found.

“This combination of growth downtown and more limited investment in outer neighborhoods … can make Detroit appear to be a ‘tale of two cities,’” the report said.

But Brett Theodos, the lead author of the report, told Bridge there’s a good reason for the discrepancy. Private investment and tax subsidies follow jobs. And they’re clustered in downtown and Midtown, particularly white-collar ones.

“If you look at the amount of investment per job per neighborhood, it doesn’t look like downtown is getting outsized levels of investment. That’s the one hand,” Theodos said.

“On the other hand, jobs are not equally located across the city .. and Detroit is especially sprawling. There’s a stark divide between who is working downtown and who is working in neighborhoods.”

In any other year, and perhaps any other city, the finding may not get much attention. Much of the report focuses on how Detroit’s revival was aided by mission lending, loans with a social purpose, often backed by philanthropies when traditional ones aren’t available.

But the “two Detroits” narrative is so controversial –  and a theme in the campaign between Mayor Mike Duggan and challenger Coleman A. Young II –  that the tax subsidy breakdown is sure to spark conversation.

Theodos said that was his intention.

“We want to feed into larger discussion about whether resources have been overly spatially concentrated,” he said.

“That’s a very salient point of discussion right now. We just wanted to acknowledge, yes, by some measures. But by other measures, not especially. It depends on what (point of view) you take.”

For Young, there’s no debate.

“Nobody who lives in neighborhoods could be surprised by this report,” he told Bridge.

“City Hall doesn’t give a good goddamn about them. … There’s no reason we should have all the tax breaks downtown while the neighborhoods aren’t getting opportunities.”

John Roach, spokesman for Duggan, said Monday the report only “tells part of the picture” because it doesn’t include other significant investments to neighborhoods, such as demolitions of some 11,000 dilapidated homes.

Even so, the findings validate the city’s strategy that led to the Midtown comeback and will be replicated in neighborhoods such as Livernois in Northwest Detroit, said James Arthur Jemison, director of housing and revitalization for the city.

“In any marketplace, financing goes to places where there’s an ability to repay,” Jemison said. “When people come to the market for the first time and don’t understand the pent-up demand and credit worthiness, they gravitate to one place. It’s our job as a city to show them other areas.”

Uneven investments
The Urban Institute is studying Detroit as part of finance giant JPMorgan Chase’s $100 million, five-year investment in the city following the nationwide real-estate crash.

The report also found:

The city’s central business district received a majority of overall investment from 2013 to 2015: 53 percent of traditional commercial, industrial and multifamily loans and 62 percent of mission lending.

Discrepancies in traditional lending intensified since the Great Recession. From 2004 to 2006, Midtown and downtown received 21 percent of private commercial loans in Detroit; the amount doubled to 42 percent from 2013 to 2015.

During that period, local, state and federal subsidies contributed $518 million to redevelopment of commercial, industrial and multifamily projects in Detroit.

A new report from the Urban Institute shows that most tax subsidies and mission investment flowed heavily into Detroit’s downtown and Midtown neighborhoods from 2013 to 2015. (Courtesy photo)

The report underestimates the total amount of subsidies.

It’s limited to federal low-income housing tax credits, federal and state historic tax credits, programs from the Michigan Economic Development Corp. and city tax increment financing. It doesn’t include a handful of federal subsidies, including Community Development Block Grants, and its city data was limited.

Work remains before revival spreads

The Urban Institute report is the latest in recent weeks to fuel a “two cities” narrative that Duggan told the Detroit Free Press in August is a “fiction” created by the media.

Last month, the nonprofit Detroit Future City released its “139 Square Miles” report that found that blacks, who comprise 80 percent of the city’s residents, hold only 33 percent of the city’s jobs. The report also found that job growth in Detroit is fueled by an uptick in jobs paying $40,000 or more per year, which are “concentrated along Woodward Avenue in Downtown and Midtown, as well as the city’s core industrial areas.”

Click here to read the full article.

In the Media

In northwest Detroit, residents have been revitalizing their neighborhood for years

Melissa Anders, from Model D, interviews Beverly Frederick, a resident of the Rosedale Park neighborhood on Detroit’s northwest side, about beautifying her community, and using Detroit Future City’s Field Guide to Working with Lots to install landscapes that help to manage stormwater runoff.

In northwest Detroit, residents have been revitalizing their neighborhood for years
By: Melissa Anders
Model D

Devastated by the recent housing market crash and years of poor economic conditions, Stahelin Avenue was plagued by drugs, vacant homes, and burned down structures.

“We have nice stately homes, we had a wonderful income median at that time, and then here’s this street,” says Beverly Frederick, who lives near Stahelin Avenue in Rosedale Park on Detroit’s northwest side. “It was almost like a forgotten street—you drive past it real fast so you didn’t want to acknowledge that this was a problem within the community.”

Now, people ride their bikes down the street, Frederick says. Lots with abandoned homes have been converted into green space with a butterfly meadow, birdhouses, hydrangeas, roses, and picnic tables. The Detroit Institute of Arts even displayed artwork on the properties, and a ribbon-cutting ceremony was held for the street last year.

“We had a ribbon cutting for the street so that we could usher in some newness, a breath of fresh air, and show them that the community did care about them,” Frederick says. “We wanted to show them what hard work means. And believe me, it was a lot of hard work.”

Frederick is among hundreds of residents who have volunteered their time to clean up, beautify, and revitalize their neighborhood with the assistance of the Grandmont Rosedale Development Corporation (GRDC) and its Vacant Property Task Force throughout the last several years.

The GRDC, a nonprofit that serves five neighborhoods in northwest Detroit, created the task force as a direct response to concerned residents who asked for help convening a group to address the foreclosures and vacancies in their communities.

GRDC had already been renovating vacant homes and reselling them at fair market value to stabilize neighborhood housing prices. With the new task force of resident volunteers, they were also able to focus on property maintenance, code enforcement, and making sure homes weren’t blighted or open to trespassing, as well as foreclosure prevention efforts.

The task force has been credited with contributing to higher property values compared to other similar neighborhoods that lack such dedicated efforts.

Volunteers maintain lawns, plant flowers, and have even hung curtains and installed solar-powered motion-sensors on vacant properties.

“Our communities are really good at hiding the fact that there are vacancies,” says Chelsea Neblett, program manager for the GRDC. Neblett, who lives in the area, didn’t even realize that the house next to hers was vacant when she purchased her home.

“I completely attribute that to the neighbors who have a roll-up-your-sleeve attitude and will pitch in and help maintain and make sure it doesn’t look like a vacant property.”

There are 18 residents on the task force roster who regularly attend monthly meetings. Large cleanup events often attract 20 to 40 volunteers.

While the task force is fortunate to have dedicated volunteers and has built relationships with various organizations and government departments, it still faces hurdles with funding and access to resources, Neblett says. The task force applies for grants and raises money through events like benefit performances and wreath sales, but it’s always looking for additional resources, funding, and volunteers.

The task force advocates for the demolition of blighted properties and has worked with Detroit Future City’s Implementation Office to install landscaping that manages storm water runoff. It also partners with the United Community Housing Coalition and U-Snap-Bac to offer annual tax foreclosure prevention workshops to teach residents about assistance programs.

Click here to read the full article.

In the Media

U-M professor breaks down Detroit’s racist history in ‘New York Times’ op-ed

Alysa Zavala-Offman, from Detroit Metro Times, discusses Detroit’s history, and references employment data from Detroit Future City’s 139 Square Miles report.

U-M professor breaks down Detroit’s racist history in ‘New York Times’ op-ed
By: Alysa Zavala-Offman
Detroit Metro Times

In recent weeks, a cast of metro Detroiters have begun to call into question offensive names of local restaurants and convention centers. Some have gone so far as to demand the city remove a bust of Christopher Columbus.

But in a New York Times op-ed published today, University of Michigan professor of American culture and history Tiya Miles breaks down the very real, very racist history of Detroit — and it runs deep.

Miles, who is the author of the soon-to-be-published The Dawn of Detroit: A Chronicle of Slavery and Freedom in the City of the Straits, uses the piece to skim the surface of the racist undertones of some of the area’s well-known names.

Names like Macomb, Campau, Beaubien, McDougall, Abbott, Brush, Cass, Hamtramck, Gouin, Meldrum, Dequindre, Beaufait, Groesbeck, Livernois, Rivard, and Belle Isle all have a hum of intolerance, although some more than others.

In the piece, Miles specifically elucidates the Macomb name, which comes from Scots-Irish brothers William and Alexander Macomb. The brothers illegally took control of the downriver island city of Grosse Isle, which was once inhabited by the indigenous Potawatomi people, and for a time also held Belle Isle. They used these islands, among others, as a place to hold their slaves — at least 26 black men, women, and children — around the time of the Revolutionary War.

The Macomb brothers were among the largest slave holders in Detroit in the 1700s, according to Miles, and when Williams Macomb died, his wife Sarah and their sons inherited his money and slaves. They later became trustees during the founding of the University of Michigan.

“The embedded racism of our streetscapes and landscapes is made perhaps more dangerous because we cannot see it upon a first glance,” Miles writes. “In Detroit and across the country, slaveholder names plastered about commemorate a social order in which elite white people exerted inexorable power over black and indigenous bodies and lives. Places named after slaveholders who sold people, raped people, chained people, beat people and orchestrated sexual pairings to further their financial ends slip off our tongues without pause or forethought.”

Detroit, a city with over 80 percent black residents, still feels the aftershocks of systemic racism and white supremacy. In a Detroit Future City report released in August, the organization found the unemployment rate is 150 percent higher for African-American residents and a third of residents live off less than $15,000 per year.

Click here to read the full article.

In the Media

Biggest hurdles ahead for Detroit

Jack Lessenberry, from Traverse City Record Eagle, writes about the challenges Detroit faces, and highlights employment and population data from Detroit Future City’s 139 Square Miles report.

Biggest hurdles ahead for Detroit
By: Jack Lessenberry
Traverse City Record Eagle

There’s no doubt that Detroit is in far better shape than it was just a few years ago. The city is out of bankruptcy, the budget is balanced, and downtown is booming.

Population decline has slowed, and Mayor Mike Duggan believes it is actually starting to grow once again.

But can Detroit really make it?

Can the city get to the point where middle-class families with children will willingly locate there? Can the city get to a point where crime is manageable, where residents can find jobs?

Realistically, Detroit still has a long way to go. You might compare the city to a seven-month premature baby that has survived a difficult rebirth and is in intensive care.

There’s a long way to go, and three or four major challenges are biggest of all. This is an election year, and Duggan, who wants a second term, will face State Senator Coleman Young II in November.

Few expect Duggan to have much difficulty; he took almost 69 percent of the vote in last month’s primary election.

But whoever wins will face these major problems:

Crime. Though Detroit has an infamous reputation and was once known nationally as “murder city,” crime may in fact be the least of the city’s big challenges. Property crime, violent crime and arson all have been decreasing in recent years.

However, Wayne County Sheriff Benny Napoleon, who Duggan defeated in the mayor’s race four years ago, thinks there should be more focus on crime. “You’re always hearing about all the murders in Chicago, but the fact is that the per capita murder rate in Detroit is higher,” something that is indeed true.

He would like to see the mayor both talking more about crime, and putting more money in the budget for more police officers. “That’s true for the county too – I’ve got a lot of positions I can’t fill, partly because our pay isn’t competitive.”

Still — the sheriff gives his old opponent high marks overall, and this year, he plans to vote for the man who defeated him.

“He has taken on one of the toughest jobs in America, and I don’t think people realize how complex the problems are.”

Education. Mayor Duggan has said fixing the schools is the single biggest challenge Detroit faces. That hasn’t happened. There are some encouraging signs. Detroit’s schools, like the city itself, were bailed out of massive debt by the legislature. Last year, after years of emergency management, they returned to governance by an elected school board.

The mayor and other city leaders have been impressed by the new superintendent, Nikolai Vitti, and the school board president, Iris Taylor. But the legislature gave the new Detroit Public Schools Community District less money that Gov. Rick Snyder said was necessary to put them firmly on their feet.

Nor did the lawmakers grant the mayor the right to determine where new schools could open – meaning charter schools, many of dubious quality and some run by for-profit companies can continue to “poach” students.

Today, more Detroit children are in charter than traditional public schools, and thousands more go to schools in other cities.

Too many Detroit public school buildings are in dreadful physical shape, with heating, rodent and insect problems.

Until Detroit is a city where middle-class residents can confidently put their children into the public schools, the comeback will at best be limited to that of a boutique culture.

Jobs. Everyone knows there aren’t enough. What may come as a shock is that in a city where the population is 80 percent black, only 33 percent of all jobs are held by African-Americans, according to the non-profit Detroit Future City, corporation – a figure that has been falling in recent years.

That’s because many of the jobs that have been created in Detroit have resulted because of suburban firms choosing to move downtown – and because white suburbanites generally have higher education and trained skill levels.

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In the Media

As expats return to Detroit, its pool of workers hungry for jobs could offer companies solutions

Dustin Walsh, from Crain’s Detroit Business, focuses on Detroit’s employment landscape, and using employment data from Detroit Future City’s 139 Square Miles report.

As expats return to Detroit, its pool of workers hungry for jobs could offer companies solutions
By: Dustin Walsh
Crain’s Detroit Business

Employers across the U.S. have a consistent message: There isn’t enough available talent.

Detroit has too many workers who want jobs.

Those facts mean that the city’s unemployment problem could be a big opportunity for businesses that need workers.

The need for jobs for Detroiters and the opportunities presented by its supply of available workers will come into focus at this week’s Detroit Homecoming IV, presented by Crain’s Detroit Business. Attendees, who are native Detroiter “expats” who have found success elsewhere, are set to learn about ways that they can help beef up Detroit’s jobs picture.

Among the ideas they’ll hear are the potential for outsourcing jobs such as call center work to Detroit, or steering office purchases to Detroit- and Michigan-based businesses.

As the working-age population across the nation continues to rapidly decline, coupled with a strengthening economy, Detroit’s unemployed and out-of-the-labor force population may provide businesses in need of workers with new hope — particularly as the city gets better at training potential workers to match what employers need.

The difference in employment pictures between Detroit and much of the rest of the country is stark.

The unemployment rate in the city was 9.4 percent in July, compared with 3.7 percent for the state of Michigan and 4.3 percent for the U.S. as a whole. That rate remains one of the highest in the nation, providing prospective employers a large pool of potential applications.

Plus, Detroit leads the nation in major cities in working age people out of the labor force. Only 49 percent of Detroit residents aged 16 to 64 were employed in 2015. In Cleveland, it’s 55 percent; in Atlanta, 69 percent.

If Detroit’s unemployed are put to work and demand increases, those no longer looking could be pulled back into the labor picture.

In 2015, Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan revived the Mayor’s Workforce Development Board, co-chaired by Strategic Staffing Solutions CEO Cindy Pasky and DTE Energy Vice Chairman Dave Meador, with the region’s top executives and workforce development agency heads to restructure its efforts to prepare Detroiters for the future economy, and more importantly, get them back to work.

The board’s audacious goal was, and still is, to put 100,000 of those unemployed Detroiters back to work. In the near-term, it has set a more reasonable, yet still bold, goal of 40,000 new jobs in the next four years.

“We’re planning for what we expect to happen; for Detroit’s economy to expand and to recapture our place in the U.S. and, maybe, abroad,” said Nicole Sherard-Freeman, president and CEO of the Detroit Employment Solutions Corp. and former corporate consulting executive. “The way we are approaching job readiness with a large urban population, quite frankly, is aggressive and none of our peers in other cities are keeping pace.”

The board is initially focusing on five industries — health care, manufacturing, construction and transportation, information technology and retail, hospitality and entertainment.

Its work includes pilot programs that have trained 240 Detroiters this year for patient care associate and patient sitter roles at Detroit’s three health systems, more than 100 jobs in four IT training programs, a prison reentry program that’s trained 175 convicts in culinary arts and hi-lo operation and dozens more in basic construction.

It’s a small start, but it’s a massive operation to steer new training methods away form traditional workforce development, said Sherard-Freeman. There are nearly 400 workforce development organizations operating in the city, and the work has been uncoordinated.

“We always thought that if we built training programs, jobs readiness programs and market it differently, just go out and tell people, they’d be lined up around the building. That’s not true in Detroit or in Baltimore or in Kansas City,” she said. “We thought we knew how to do this, we’d talk to employers and tell them how to train their employees. That’s not how it works. Maybe that’s not how it ever worked.”

The board and the DESC began validating existing programs by creating a demand forecast, securing hiring commitments from employers and working with them to design training, largely for the first time in the city’s workforce development history.

Barriers still remain, such as a weak public transportation system, the hangover of unpaid driver responsibility fees that keep people from driving legally and illiteracy from a failed public school district. The board is working to knock some obstacles down.

But if the board is successful in reaching its 40,000 jobs goal, the city could serve as a beacon to expanding businesses across the U.S. No other city has the available space — 900 vacant industrial buildings spread throughout the city, according to a June report by Detroit Future City. Mash in a ready workforce, and Detroit is an attractive solution.

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