The City of Detroit has announced the first round of grants awarded under its new Neighborhood Beautification Program, but most of the groups that applied didn’t qualify.
The $2.3 million program was created this year to help neighborhood groups obtain $500 to $15,000 grants to clean up their blocks and build parks, community gardens or public spaces.
Only 34 of the 101 organizations that applied were eligible, which fell short of the city’s goal to fund 50 projects this year.
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“It’s a phenomenal program, but the way they announced it made it seem like it was going to be more accessible to block clubs who really need it,” said Rhonda Theus, president of Canfield Consortium, which received a $15,000 grant. “If there is a great program, but it isn’t accessible to the majority of people that need it, then how effective is it going to be? I’m grateful we got it, but I’m sad for all the great, great people who organized in the city to make positive change and weren’t able to qualify for it.”
Part of the issue, Theus said, is some block clubs aren’t organized as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization. That’s a requirement of the grant program, and the city partnered with Wayne Metro Community Action Agency to help register organizations for free. Other block clubs, Theus said, didn’t qualify because the land they wanted to improve was in the name of a community individual instead of the entity itself.
“Once they applied, they were told ‘the land you’re going to beautify has to be in the name of the organization,’” Theus said. “That eliminated all the block clubs in my community, which is East Canfield Village. That was kind of sad because people were very excited about getting these funds.”
Tamra Hardy, director of the Housing and Revitalization Department’s Neighborhood Services Division, said the city “had a lot of lessons learned” from the first round of the program.
She acknowledged that small community organizations struggled to get paperwork turned in on time, so the city extended the application deadline twice, and some of the applicants ran into hurdles while developing site plans for their dream projects.
“I have someone on my team who will sit down with the organization and customize the plot plan with them, so that was one thing we quickly realized – even though we gave the organization instructions – it was still more than most organizations are accustomed to,” Hardy said. “Many of the lots are not permitted for the type of activities that the organization wants to do. We’ve been working with the (Buildings, Safety Engineering, and Environmental Department) to walk the applicant through the process.”
Theus said her organization had to battle with BSEED over whether certain permits were needed.
“Permits cost money and they were going to take that out of our grant funding, so we had to go back and forth,” Theus said. “They told us ‘you need this permit,’ and because we have been doing this work for a while, we knew we didn’t. We had to prove we weren’t required to have this permit.”
Canfield Consortium was ultimately awarded a $15,000 grant, though Theus said the money hasn’t been allocated just yet. The organization is planning to expand an outdoor art park at the corner of East Canfield and Montclair streets to reflect the neighborhood’s cultural identity. Theus said the East Canfield community was very connected socially when she grew up there in the 1970s, but became disjointed over time. She’s hoping to bring back a sense of community pride. It should be finished by spring 2023.
“Art is powerful, especially in Black underserved communities that have been disenfranchised and there’s been a lot of disinvestment,” Theus said. “You need positive reflections of the community. We were very deliberate in wanting to install art that will uplift the community.”
The Detroit’s Land Bank Authority is also working with the Department of Neighborhoods to sell land to organizations that wish to participate in the beautification program. Up to four lots are available at $250 apiece.
Applications for the DLBA’s “create-a-project” program are available online. There were 122 applicants by the end of August. Of those, 43 were approved.
Another round of applications for the Neighborhood Beautification Program will be accepted in February. Hardy said the housing department and BSEED will host more workshops this year and provide technical assistance to any organization that wants to apply.
“This is a first for this type of project at this scale,” Hardy said. “I don’t think we’ve ever given block clubs $15,000 to beautify their neighborhoods, and we’ve given it to them upfront without asking them for reimbursement. The neighborhoods are excited and I’m excited that we’re able to provide this type of funding and give back to the community.”
The city hopes to provide grants to 150 organizations by 2023 under the three-year program funded with $1.25 million in federal American Rescue Plan Act funding and $1 million from the Neighborhood Improvement Fund, which collects income tax revenue from NBA players’ salaries during home games at Little Caesars Arena and the salaries of Pistons and Palace Sports & Entertainment employees.
Mayor Mike Duggan and members of the City Council celebrated the first round of awards during a Wednesday press conference in the Nolan neighborhood. City officials highlighted a project planned by Rescue MI Nature Now Inc., which owns 29 parcels and one house between State Fair and Winchester along Derby and Exeter streets.
The nonprofit is building wildlife habitats, planting trees, creating food and flower gardens, clearing alleyways and renovating a formerly vacant house into educational studios for youth, which includes a culinary space. Rescue MI Nature Now received $14,990 from the city to put toward its efforts.
The nonprofit hires area youth to tend the gardens and teaches them how to sell the produce they grow at Eastern Market and the Palmer Park Farmers Market.
“We know that it can be hard for those who grow up in poverty to succeed without proper nutrition,” Tharmond Ligon Jr. said Wednesday. “I grew up on Derby (street), and moved back here in 2018, so I know the challenges in having access to healthy food. We’re also instilling in these youth skills they can use for the rest of their lives and will hopefully share with others and future generations. This grant will allow us to continue our beautification efforts, while educating Detroit youth and others about the quality-of-life benefits in their own neighborhoods.”
The following 34 organizations were the first to receive grants, ordered by the City Council District they operate in:
- Berg-Lahser Community Association
- Grandmont #1 Improvement Association
- Cross Pollination Corridor Project
- Minock Park Block Association
- North Rosedale Park Block Captains
- Schoolcraft Improvement Association
- North Rosedale Park Civic Association
- Demographic Inspiration’s Detroit
- Mohican Regent Homeowners Association
- Marjorie Street Garden
- Crane Street Garden
- Rescue MI Nature Now, Inc.
- East Davison Village Community Group
- Mt. Olivet Neighborhood Watch
- New Beginnings CDC
- Canfield Consortium
- Camp Restore Detroit
- Sanctuary Farms Block Club
- Arboretum Detroit
- Field Temple
- NW Goldberg Cares
- Bailey Park Neighborhood Development Corporation
- Class Act Detroit
- United Block Club Council
- Nardin Park Improvement Rock
- Calyxeum Catalyst
- Renaissance of Hope Inc.
- Evergreen Block Club
- Esper Street Robert Aviation Community
- DeSoto Ellsworth Block Association
- In Memory of Community Garden
- A Place of Refuge