Council Member Scott Benson is pushing for a $3.75 million after-school tutoring program and other policy recommendations created by a task force convened to increase the wealth of Black families in Detroit.
Benson released a report with six policy recommendations based on the work of the Wealth Generation Task Force over the last year. The group was convened to close wealth and income gaps in Detroit by advocating for programs that reduce poverty, retain middle-class families and attract new residents. Benson said the recommendations will be submitted to Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan and the full City Council.
“When it comes time to fund these items, that’s when I’ll go back to (council), but initially I have to get the administration on board,” Benson said during a Tuesday news conference at the Detroit Historical Society. “They will prepare and implement a program and, at that time, we as City Council can go ahead and authorize.”
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Task force members said job creation has traditionally been the main tool used to address generational wealth, but wider-reaching policy solutions are needed. The group identified six “pillars” that the city should focus on including education, entrepreneurship, employment, banking, property ownership and healthy neighborhoods. Task force members noted that similar solutions have been proposed in the past, but they’re optimistic that changes can be made in partnership with government and business groups.
“A lot of these issues have been discussed, but I think we’re in a unique moment where we can actually implement some real change,” said task force member J.R. Clark, a lawyer and partner at Squire Patton Boggs. “I really feel that the energy is there, the opportunity is there.”
Benson did not have an estimate of the cost to fully fund all recommendations. He said a combination of philanthropic donations, corporate partnerships and federal pandemic relief funds could help to implement task force goals.
Among the recommendations, Benson’s top priority is convincing Duggan to create a $3.75 million tutoring program for 5,000 Detroit students. The tutoring program is meant to address the low rate of college-readiness in high school graduates. Certified teachers based in public libraries and recreation centers would supplement instruction in area schools, Benson said.
Task force member Kathleen Colin, president of National Association of Securities Professionals Detroit, said tutors would help prepare students for college and to enter the workforce. She said corporate partners could provide mentorship and teach kids about career pathways.
Colin said she’s a proud graduate of Detroit Public Schools and an advocate for parents being able to move their children into other schools. Colin said she graduated from Cass Technical High School and built important relationships that pushed her to the University of Michigan and a career in the financial industry.
The task force recommends better partnerships between Detroit at Work, the city’s workforce training program, and Detroit Public Schools Community District to advertise career technical education programs to youth.
Duggan already backed another task force recommendation, Benson said. A $1 million estate planning program paid for with federal pandemic relief funds was picked up by the mayor at Benson’s request. Benson said Detroiters will receive legal services to help with “tangled titles.” The program will help transfer property between family members when there is an outdated deed or lack of a legal will.
“What we need to do is create opportunities for the efficient transfer of wealth; one of the ways to do that is to preserve the asset that contains the greatest wealth that most of us have, and that’s in our home,” said task force member Shirley Kaigler, an estate attorney with Taft Law. “Grandma will have the right deed, daughter will have title, insurance and grant money.”
Benson calls it the Efficient Transfer of Wealth Program. It’s also part of Duggan’s multi-step plan to improve neighborhoods, unveiled during his 10th State of the City address.
“What councilman Benson is proposing is, when the heirs agree, the city will provide legal services,” Duggan said in March. “We’ll be your lawyer, get that title cleared up, so that when you’ve earned that wealth you can pass it on and keep it. Beyond that, we’ll provide education materials so other families can do it. We have this huge buildup in the value of the property and our houses, let’s make sure they’re passed on to the next generation.”
Many families do not plan for who will be responsible for a property after the owner’s death causing properties to be lost in probate court. The task force points to programs in Washtenaw County and Philadelphia that can serve as a model.
Benson said the program will be implemented in the fall after contracts are approved.
The program is among a group of housing services that Detroiters can learn about through a hotline (866-313-2520) supported by the Gilbert Family Foundation. Executive Director Laura Grannemann said the foundation surveyed residents last year and found 80% don’t have an estate plan or a will. The finding was “eye-opening,” she said, and the foundation is considering financial support for solutions.
Benson said he was similarly shocked to learn 23% of Detroiters are unbanked or underbanked. The task force report found unbanked Detroiters, who don’t have access to a checking or savings account with a secure financial institution, can pay $40,000 over their lifetime for routine financial services and transactions.
The task force supports city efforts to sign up residents for certified bank accounts. It also recommends future requests for city banking services require banks to show a plan to increase the number of Detroit account holders. Banks should be scored based on their success, the task force recommends.
The task force is also calling for the creation of an ordinance requiring the Detroit Land Bank Authority to provide mandatory workshops for people who buy land bank properties. Buyers should also be provided with a “realistic timeline” for making the property habitable before being reclaimed by the land bank. Detroiters who purchase homes from the land bank have struggled to complete home renovation projects, causing them to fall into debt or lose the property altogether.
The task force argues Detroit should prioritize enforcing dangerous and vacant building ordinances. It recommends accelerating forfeiture proceedings for individuals and companies who own large amounts of blighted property, if their property isn’t maintained after “numerous citations.”
Task force member Nicole Brown, director of strategic partnerships for the nonprofit research group Detroit Future City, said Detroit should develop a master plan for vacant space. Brown said Detroit has 19 square miles of vacant land, largely within neighborhoods and the city needs a plan for investment in those areas.
The fourth-generation Detroiter said the city could be a national model for sustainable planning. Possible uses of open land could include storm drainage and water infrastructure or planting trees to improve air quality and cool down areas.
“We know that we’re facing climate change challenges; we know that we have a city that has some of the highest asthma rates in the country,” Brown said. “When you are able to use land based solutions … you start to be able to create the neighborhoods that people want to live in.”
The task force recommends new grant programs for small businesses and encourages financial institutions and the philanthropic community to provide low-cost loans.
It also is supportive of the Small Business Support Network under the Michigan Department of Labor and Economic Opportunity as well as investments to coordinate small business support through groups like Detroit Means Business, TechTown, ProsperUS, Build Institute, and the Accounting Aid Society.