Tamra Fountaine Hardy speaking at the podium
Tamra Fountaine Hardy, director of neighborhood services and economic development for Detroit’s Housing and Revitalization Department, announces the latest group of recipients and expansion of the Neighborhood Beautification Program during a Monday news conference in the city’s Fitzgerald neighborhood. (City of Detroit)

Detroit is directing another $2.5 million toward a program that doles out grants to block clubs, faith-based groups and nonprofit organizations for neighborhood beautification projects.

The new infusion of federal American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funding will allow for three more rounds of the popular city program which awards mini grants of $500 to $15,000 to projects that enhance communities. 

Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan and Tamra Fountaine Hardy, director of neighborhood services and economic development for Detroit’s Housing and Revitalization Department, unveiled the latest group of grant recipients and expansion of the grant program during a Monday news conference in the city’s Fitzgerald neighborhood.

Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan talking to people outside
Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan talks with residents during a Monday press conference in the city’s Fitzgerald community. The Marygrove Community Association’s “Marygrove Commons” is among the resident-led projects getting grant funding in the second round of Detroit’s Neighborhood Beautification Program. (City of Detroit)

The second round of applications for the Neighborhood Beautification Program opened earlier this year. On Monday, Duggan and Hardy said this round covered $640,000 worth of grants for 45 groups across each of Detroit’s seven city council districts. The grants cover community cleanups and gardens and public space activities like pocket parks, art installations and murals. 

Duggan said the round of winners announced Monday was supposed to be the final group, but due to the program’s popularity and a request from Hardy for continued funding, it will go on.

“This is Detroiters planning their future and having the money to rebuild the neighborhoods the way they want, not the way some out of town investor wants,” Duggan said during the news conference on Kentucky Street. “And for anybody who says ‘nothing is going on in my block,’ I would say this, we now have, in just the last year, 78 block clubs and neighborhood associations running their own projects.

“If nothing is going on in your block it’s because you didn’t apply,” he added. “But you’ll get a chance to apply again later this year.” 

The first 33 APRA-funded Neighborhood Beautification Program winners will be announced later this year. The remaining rounds of grants will be awarded in 2024 and 2025. 

Hardy said there were more than 100 applications for the second round of the program and after the 45 awardees were selected, the city had another 30-plus projects worthy of funding.

“He (Duggan) asked me, ‘Tamra, what do you need?’ and I said, ‘more money,’” said Hardy, adding she told Duggan how much she needed and “he heard me and responded big.”

She joked that Monday was her “Oprah moment.” 

“You get a grant, you get a grant and you get a grant,” Hardy said to laughter from the crowd.

Duggan on Monday reiterated “every neighborhood has a future,” the campaign promise he made to Detroiters during his first run for office and said that Kentucky was the very first block he’d visited. In 2014, burned out houses lined both sides of the street. Since then, many have come down, other city-owned homes were sold for rehabilitation and Detroit began suing private property owners who’d abandoned homes there, too. 

“We put all of our energy here,” Duggan said. “Then comes the next question; once we’ve got this all knocked down, what do you do with the land?”

Duggan said people in Detroit know that over the years the treasurer’s office has been required by law to sell to whoever bid on the properties. That largely resulted in about 30,000 vacant lots in this city owned by speculators outside the city and the country “and we can’t do anything with them,” he said. 

“We said at the land bank ‘We’re going to make sure the land goes to Detroiters.’ Now, at times, you’ve heard people say ‘well, the land bank wouldn’t sell it to me,’’ he said, but also noted the sale of 25,000 side lots for $100 to neighbors to enlarge their properties. 

The beautification grants are open to groups that own the properties where the projects they are seeking funding for will take place. For others with beautification plans for land they do not own, the program assists those groups with purchasing or leasing vacant lots owned by the Detroit Land Bank Authority.

The beautification program is part of the Neighborhood Improvement Fund (NIF) championed by City Council President Mary Sheffield as a component of the development deal for the Detroit Pistons’ headquarters and training facility in City Council District 5. 

Initial funding for the program was $2.25 million, which included $1.25 million in ARPA dollars and $1 million in NIF funding. NIF funds are derived from net income tax revenue collected from NBA players’ salaries during home games played at the Little Caesars Arena and the salaries of Pistons and Palace Sports & Entertainment employees.

Detroit City Council President Mary Sheffield talking to man
Detroit City Council President Mary Sheffield was on hand Monday as the city announced another $2.5 million in American Rescue Plan Act funding going toward the city’s Neighborhood Beautification Program. (City of Detroit)

Sheffield sought to create the fund to help community groups outside of Detroit’s Midtown and downtown that have been dedicated to keeping up and enhancing their neighborhoods.

On Monday, Sheffield noted the tremendous support and need for the program and that the groups behind the projects are the “backbone” of neighborhood revitalization.

“You all maintain these lots, you are active in your communities and you all know the needs of your particular neighborhood,” she said. “So this is the least that we can do as a city to be able to provide support to your visions to make them come to reality … I will always support the Neighborhood Beautification (Program) because it truly came from the request of the community.”

Monday’s announcement was made at the Marygrove Community Association’s “Marygrove Civic Commons” in Detroit’s District 2, which is getting funding in the second round of the grant program. The community association was established in 2015 and  has worked to build connections between neighbors, businesses and area stakeholders.

The association’s grant will help with the revitalization of an acre of land between Kentucky Street and Indiana Avenue. The group is building a teaching community garden, a park and green space and an arts corridor. The grant will help with the development of a multipurpose field, which the association envisions as a space for youth sports, community picnics and for farm and maker markets. 

“We view this space as a new town square,” said Jay Meeks, treasurer and board member of the Marygrove Community Association. “We view this as an opportunity, as neutral space, as neutral ground for people to connect.”  

Jay Meeks speaks into microphone
Jay Meeks, treasurer of the Marygrove Community Association, spoke Monday at a news conference about his group’s plans to expand its neighborhood space and to build a multipurpose field for youth athletics and community markets. (City of Detroit) 

Meeks added during the news conference that the grants provide “the ability to dream and to do the work.”

Last year, the grant program overseen by the city’s Housing and Revitalization Department and administered by the Wayne Metropolitan Community Action Agency, gave out $500,000 to 36 block clubs and neighborhood associations. 

Hardy said the application period for round three is expected to open in January, but one-on-one assistance is open to interested groups now. Visit the website for more information. 

“All you have to do is reach out to us and we will walk you through the process,” she said.

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