Detroiters will soon be able to apply for funding to cover the cost to repurpose empty land in their neighborhoods.
The City of Detroit is finalizing a contract with Wayne Metro Community Action Agency to administer the Neighborhood Beautification Program, which provides $2.25 million for street-level organizations to turn vacant properties into “community connectors.” A total of 150 grants ranging from $500 to $15,000 will be awarded by the end of 2024, starting with a first round of 50 grants that will be distributed this summer.
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Eligible projects fall within three categories: clean-up activities, community gardens and public space activities. This includes things like graffiti and trash removal, tree planting, park improvements, art installations and new public gathering spaces.
Tamra Hardy, director of the Housing and Revitalization Department’s Neighborhood Services Division, said applications are expected to open May 31 and close at the end of July. The grants are meant for neighborhood associations, block clubs, faith-based groups and local non-profit organizations. Applicants that do not have 501(c)(3) status can access grants if they partner with Wayne Metro.
“We’ve received overwhelming response to the program,” Hardy said. “Many organizations, community block clubs and neighborhood associations and nonprofits have expressed a lot of interest.”
Organizations that submit an application must prove that their desired project lines up with what residents want to see in their neighborhood. Projects also need to be realistic and show a benefit to the community.
Hardy said the Detroit 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 now.
(Department of Neighborhoods map, City of Detroit)
“We feel like we’ve looked at all the possible roadblocks that could possibly hinder an entity from purchasing the lots and from gaining access to the funding, and we tried to address those,” Hardy said. “We’re going to do whatever we can do to assure the community that we’re going to make this process as accessible as possible for them. We don’t want to keep the funding, we want the neighborhood associations to play an important role in revitalizing their community.”
The Detroit Land Bank Authority owns 62,822 vacant properties across the city, according to a second-quarter 2022 report. DLBA has 19,307 neighborhood lots for sale and 9,816 side lots for sale.
The Neighborhood Beautification Program was proposed by Detroit City Council President Mary Sheffield in 2017 to benefit communities that often miss out on funding to improve public spaces.
Funding comes from the city’s Neighborhood Improvement Fund ($1 million), which collects income taxes from employees of the Detroit Pistons franchise, and federal COVID-19 relief provided by the American Rescue Plan Act ($1.25 million).
The beautification program is the first use of income taxes collected from the Pistons since the team moved to downtown Detroit from Auburn Hills. Sheffield proposed the fund in 2017 in response to calls from residents to negotiate community benefits as a part of the development deal to build the new Detroit Pistons headquarters and training facility at Little Caesars Arena.
The Pistons tax capture has raised roughly $3 million so far. The fund will be in place until tax-payer funded construction bonds are paid off in 2048, generating an estimated $30 million for neighborhood upgrades.
The City Council is expected to finalize the contract with Wayne Metro later this month. A draft of the agreement states Wayne Metro will be responsible for hosting informational sessions and promoting funding opportunities through social media, neighborhood association meetings and other methods.
Hardy said a workshop is tentatively scheduled for June 10 to provide more details for potential applicants. A recording of the meeting will be posted online, she said.
“We’ve been going to different (City Council) district meetings and meeting with the community for four weeks already,” Hardy said. “The word is getting out there. As soon as the program opens, Wayne Metro will be there to provide any input and assistance that the applicants might need.”
Wayne Metro would also provide technical assistance to nonprofit groups, helping them navigate the application process. Wayne Metro would also be responsible for measuring the success of the Neighborhood Beautification Program and submitting reports on the number of grant applications, status of projects, demographic information and details of land swaps.
Detroiters with questions about the beautification program are encouraged to contact the Department of Neighborhoods at firstname.lastname@example.org.