Vacant houses
Vacant houses in need of renovation in Detroit’s Virginia Park neighborhood on September 18, 2019. (BridgeDetroit photo by Christine Ferretti)

The phone lines opened early last month for a new home repair fund for Detroiters and within the first 24 hours, 3,000 people had placed 121,764 calls for help.

By the end of the first week, 194,733 calls came in about the Detroit Home Repair Fund, and 244,378 calls for the month of May as a whole, according to data as of June 1 provided by the Gilbert Family Foundation.

“There were people that were calling multiple times. Some people had multiple phones open, because the need is so urgent,” said Darnell Adams, director of community initiatives for the Gilbert Family Foundation. “It shows that there is a significant need for more resources in this space for home repair. Perhaps the existing resources are hard to access for many Detroiters.”

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Gilbert Family Foundation officials told BridgeDetroit that 5,689 people are effectively in line for aid from the $20 million fund aiming to help more than 1,000 Detroiters access home repair resources over three years through a network of nonprofits. 

The fund — financed by the Gilbert Family Foundation, DTE Energy and the health care organization ProMedica — was established to address poor living conditions in Detroiters’ homes by repairing roofs, stairs, windows, drywall and foundations. 

Those already in the pipeline for DTE’s Energy Efficiency Assistance Program will be serviced first under the program expected to begin in late July. There is no predetermined minimum or maximum amount that will be spent on each home.

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 might include a home with exposed wiring or electrical issues, a broken furnace or no running water. 

Lydia Wileden, a UM researcher who worked on the report, said the 2021 findings and a prior UM study have revealed “how oversubscribed existing options (for home repair) are.”

“That’s happened once again with this new fund,” she told BridgeDetroit, adding she’s encouraged to see more programs developed to fund home repairs and to reach a broader section of the public.

She said creation of the fund and financing in part by the Gilbert Family Foundation is a positive sign and it aligns with results from a City of Detroit survey on how an influx of federal COVID-19 relief money should be spent, which suggested home repair is “one of the most desired areas of investment” for Detroit residents.

“These things together,” she said, “show just the degree of need.”

UM’s report notes that low and moderate income residents are more likely to live in poor housing conditions. The most frequent concerns Detroiters had were stopped up plumbing, pests, crumbling porches, unsafe trees, broken appliances, insufficient insulation and roof damage. 

Gilbert Family Foundation officials have estimated home repair needs in Detroit could be as high as $4 billion.

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, known as the HOPE program, are eligible to get assistance through the Detroit Home Repair Fund. 

The fund will first be available to community organizations working with the DTE energy assistance program, including Wayne Metropolitan Community Action Agency, the United Community Housing Coalition, Eastside Community Network, Matrix Human Services, CLEARCorps Detroit and EcoWorks.

DTE’s program, unveiled in April, makes upgrades to home appliances, furnaces, water heaters, windows and air sealing.

Green & Healthy Homes Initiative is heading up a boot camp for the partners to teach and standardize best practices for the repair program, Gilbert Family Foundation officials said.

The City of Detroit has bolstered offerings of its own in recent months to help address the crisis. Last fall, the city unveiled Renew Detroit, an effort to replace 1,000 roofs for low-income seniors and homeowners with disabilities. That program, to begin this summer, is supported with $30 million in federal American Rescue Plan dollars. 

Wileden said UM’s researchers have pointed out that home repair funding is not available for a lot of Detroiters who need it. Many programs, she said, focus on providing aid to seniors and individuals with disabilities. 

“Those are certainly deserving groups and groups that I think get a fair amount of attention in terms of what their needs are. But there are a lot of other groups in Detroit,” she said. “We highlighted (in the report) households with children that were ineligible for some of the past funding opportunities.”

There’s also inequity based upon race. UM’s study found white Detroiters were half as likely to reside in poor quality homes, compared with residents of color. It also noted that more renters live in inadequate homes than those who live in owner-occupied properties. 

In 2019, Detroit had about 128,000 single-family, owner-occupied housing units and about 12% were inadequate. Meanwhile, about 16% of the city’s nearly 139,000 renter-occupied housing were inadequate, UM researchers found. 

Wileden said programs that limit home repair funding to owner-occupied houses in the majority-renter city presents another major barrier.

“It has an internal logic to it, you really don’t want renters being the only ones taking on the burden for the poor quality housing they are living in,” she said. “But renters often living in inadequate housing and finding ways that they can invest in the places they live and improve them – whether that’s ultimately through some type of payback program, paying rent through in-kind improvements to a home or something else – I would imagine that’s a group that we know often is impacted by inadequate quality housing but is probably left out.”

Mac Farr, executive director of The Villages, a community development corporation on the city’s east side, said he’s not surprised by the level of interest for the Detroit Home Repair Fund, or the need. 

The Villages is running its own housing program in Islandview, East Village and North Village. The initiative began last fall and targets 10 homes. It provides a title, tax and utility checks and ensures occupants have a succession plan for their homes as well as $2,000 worth of home repairs, which he said “is never enough.”

“We have folks in some very bombed-out houses,” said Farr, a Pingree Park resident. “Quality housing stock on the east side is such that some clients of ours, who are in housing situations that no matter how much money we throw at them, are not going to be sustainable.”

The Villages is expecting to spend about $90,000 on the program for the owner-occupants it has identified and facilitate it with help from neighborhood partners. The Villages will select more homeowners in the same three target areas to participate this fall, Farr said. 

As for the Detroit Home Repair Fund, Adams said partners want to provide a seamless process that won’t require residents to make multiple calls to different agencies to tap into the home repair resources they need. 

The foundation and its partners, he said, are aware that the reach of the initiative is limited and they are hopeful that the program will motivate others to step up.

“We, unfortunately, were really clear about the 1,000 people that we can touch,” Adams said. “What we’re doing though is laying a foundation. We showed the need and we’re trying to attract additional help to the fund and also eventually add more capacity on the community partner side so more residents can get help.”

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2 Comments

  1. We thank you for this article. Detroit Affordable Housing and Homelessness Task Force

  2. I applied for this program early this year and I was told that I was on the list,but before I could become eligible, I was told to apply for the home tax exemption program. And my appointment is August 3rd at 10:30 with Wayne Metro.

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