Jennifer Gilbert
Jennifer Gilbert, co-founder of the Gilbert Family Foundation, speaks during the launch of the $20 million Detroit Home Repair Fund that aims to help more than 1,000 Detroiters fix up their homes, through a network of nonprofits. The program is funded by the Gilbert Family Foundation, DTE Energy and ProMedica. (Nushrat Rahman photo)

A new $20 million program aims to help more than 1,000 Detroiters access home repair resources, over three years, through a network of nonprofits. 

The Detroit Home Repair Fund — financed by the Gilbert Family Foundation, DTE Energy and health care organization ProMedica — was created to address the living conditions in Detroiters’ homes, officials said Tuesday during a news conference announcing the program. The result may be fixed roofs, stairs, windows, drywall and foundations. 

“We are about to break a cycle that has trapped thousands of Detroit residents over the last two decades,” said Laura Grannemann, executive director of the Gilbert Family Foundation. “Too many residents in the city of Detroit have faced a horrible decision: They either live in unsafe homes because they can’t afford critical home repair resources or they leave their properties — many of which have been in their families for generations.” 

An estimated 37,630 Detroit households live in “inadequate” conditions, according to an October report from the University of Michigan’s Detroit Metro Area Communities Study. That may include a home with exposed wiring or electrical issues, a broken furnace or no running water. 

Residents with low and moderate incomes are more likely to live in poor housing conditions, according to the report. White Detroiters are half as likely to reside in these homes, compared with residents of color. And more renters live in inadequate homes than homeowners. 

The report found that among the most frequent repair concerns Detroiters had: stopped up plumbing, pests, crumbling porch, unsafe trees, broken appliances, insufficient insulation and damaged roof. 

The need for repairs funds in Detroit could be as high as $4 billion, Grannemann estimated.

“Home repair is critical in stabilizing neighborhoods,” Council President Mary Sheffield said. “It shuts off the pipeline to blight in our communities and with home ownership being the cornerstone of building wealth and stabilizing families, home repair creates and preserves generational wealth for Detroiters who have stayed and sustained our city.” 

Detroit homeowners with incomes at or below 200% of the federal poverty line — or a person making $27,180 — who have applied for the city of Detroit’s poverty tax exemption, better known as the HOPE program, are eligible to get assistance through the fund. 

There is no minimum or maximum amount that will be spent on each home.

Grannemann said one of the goals is to simplify the process for trying to get home repair help. That includes soliciting bids from contractors, talking to residents about their needs and doing inspections. 

The fund will first be available to community organizations working with DTE Energy’s Energy Efficiency Assistance Program, including Wayne Metropolitan Community Action Agency, the United Community Housing Coalition, Eastside Community Network, Matrix Human Services, CLEARCorps Detroit and EcoWorks. Those currently enrolled in DTE’s program will “automatically be flagged for participation,” Grannemann said.

The Detroit Home Repair Fund has set out to address the more foundational and expensive issues — such as holes in a roof — that a homeowner needs to tackle before they can even make their home energy efficient, officials said Tuesday.

DTE’s program makes upgrades to home appliances, furnaces, water heaters, windows and air sealing, Trevor Lauer, president and COO of DTE Electric, said.

“We’re really going to be able to, as a group, more holistically address the issues that some of these customers have to go above and beyond normal energy efficiency,” Lauer said. 

Detroiter Loretta Powell signed up for DTE’s program last year and received a water heater and furnace but she still needs repairs including windows and a new deck. 

As Powell was volunteering with the nonprofit Eastside Community Network, making phone calls and going door-to-door to let people know about resources to avoid property tax foreclosure, she noticed how many homes “desperately” needed home repairs. At times, it was too dangerous to walk up broken stairs, she said. 

“We need help,” Powell said. “Detroit desperately needs home repair programs for our community because our homes need to be safe to live in.” 

Home repair was among the top concerns Detroiters raised when asked last year how they would like their city government to spend an influx of federal COVID-19 relief dollars. Researchers, residents and community organizations have said existing programs are difficult to tap into and don’t address the breadth of repair needs in the city. 

The biggest issue now, particularly with seniors, is addressing improvements in their homes, Mayor Mike Duggan said. 

“(They’ve) got a hole in their roof, they’ve got a plumbing problem, there’s wind blowing into the windows, they need some grants to be able to stay there because they don’t want to leave. They love their homes,” Duggan said. 

Last fall, the city of Detroit launched a program to replace 1,000 roofs for low-income seniors and homeowners with disabilities, funded by $30 million in federal American Rescue Plan dollars. 

That work is expected to begin later this summer, Duggan said Tuesday.

Advocates at the time said that pot of funding was not nearly enough to address the wide scale of repair needs. 

Daisy Jackson, vice president of the Field Street Block Club in Detroit’s Islandview neighborhood, said residents are dealing with holes and leaks. They need new roofs and insulation. 

Jackson said it’s important for residents to have one place to get help for repair funding. 

“You’ve got to jump through hoops to get the resources,” Jackson said. 

The fund operates on a first come first served basis. The repair work is slated to begin June or July. Those interested can call the Detroit Home Repair Fund at 313-306-2082 to see if they qualify and for more information. 

Nushrat Rahman covers issues related to economic mobility for the Detroit Free Press and BridgeDetroit as a corps member with Report for America, an initiative of The GroundTruth Project.

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  1. There are home owners that are not considered in the low income guidelines seeking help but keep getting turned down because of our slightly higher income such as myself. With the hourly wage increasing, will that make more home owners not qualified for assistance?

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