Erin Williams
Erin Williams, a Sinai-Grace Hospital employee, received $10,000 to replace half of the 18 windows in her house to help reduce energy costs. (Erin Williams photo)

If you work on Detroit’s Northwest side you may qualify for up to $10,000 in down payment or home exterior update assistance through a program by the Sinai-Grace Guild Community Development Corporation.

The Sinai-Grace CDC began accepting applications in May of last year for the Live Local housing program. The goal is to increase homeownership, residential growth and investment in the area. The program incentive area includes the Winship, College Park, Crary/St. Mary’s, Harmony Village and Bethune neighborhoods.

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Erin Williams applied for the Live Local program after graduating from Wayne County Community College with an associate’s degree in nursing last year. Williams, now an employee at Sinai-Grace Hospital, said she grew up in the Winship area, which is close to the home she now owns and lives in with her 5-year-old daughter. Williams received $10,000 to replace half of the 18 windows in her house. She said she bought the property in 2021, and it still had the original windows from when the home was built in 1948.

Williams says she recommends the program to her friends and neighbors. The new windows in her home have reduced her energy costs, and because she works in the area, she doesn’t have a long commute.

“They’re putting more money into their homes, which raises the value of the neighborhood,” she said. I just feel like where you work, you should live in the community, because you feel more passionate about serving the community.”

Applicants must be employed full-time by an employer within the program incentive area, and currently live in or plan to purchase a home within the program incentive area. An income threshold is applied, and those who are under 80% of the area median income have access to more funds than those above that level. Applications are also available to current full-time students and recent alumni of the Wayne County Community College District Northwest Campus. If chosen, applicants must agree to live in the area for at least five years.

Lisa Campbell, executive director of Sinai-Grace CDC, said they conducted a feasibility study to understand the needs of the area. They found that 8,000 jobs are in the area but only 2 percent of employees live nearby. The study also revealed a small, lower-middle-class population in the area: a median household income that is 7 percent higher than the citywide median and higher educational attainment than the citywide rate.

The neighborhoods in northwest Detroit are home to more intergenerational households than other parts of the city and have employer strongholds like schools, hospitals and local businesses, Campbell said. The study revealed a decline of 48 percent in the worker population in the program area between 2000 and 2017. 

She hopes that the program will encourage residents to stay in Detroit.

“We wanted this to be attainable for anyone,” Campbell said. “The common goal here is homeownership and helping families build wealth.”

Sinai-Grace CDC’s work has largely focused on the area’s senior population in the past. Seniors within a certain income threshold were previously eligible to apply for weatherization assistance.  However, as Detroit’s Black middle class dwindled over the last few decades, so have homeownership rates. The CDC saw that as an opportunity to incentivize full-time workers who were willing to live near work.

The Sinai-Grace CDC Live Local program is similar to Midtown’s Live Where You Work Incentive Program. Midtown Detroit Inc., Detroit Medical Center, Henry Ford Health System, and Wayne State University partnered as anchor institutions from 2010 to 2013 to incentivize employees to relocate to the neighborhood. According to Live Midtown’s website, the program has spent “nearly $3 million in direct subsidies.”

Midtown’s occupancy rate, home sales price and rental prices increased as a result of the Live Midtown program. New businesses also opened in the area, and development projects for additional housing were approved.

Sinai-Grace CDC’s program, through financial support from the Ballmer Group, has $250,000 in funds.

“We think that there’s a lot of opportunity here, and the demand is great,” Campbell said.

Campbell said those dollars will last at least a year and the hope is to procure more funds. The program has had 60 applicants so far with three approved for home improvement projects and six approved for down payment assistance.

Those who were not approved either did not meet eligibility requirements to their employer and/or the property’s address was outside of the program’s boundaries, Campbell told BridgeDetroit.

However, several home-buying assistance programs, like the Detroit Home Mortgage, which provided $10,000 down payment loans through the end of October last year, have had moderate success. The difference between these programs and Sinai-Grace CDC’s program: Their funds offer loans instead of grants.

Recent data from the University of Michigan show the interest to purchase a home in Detroit, based on homebuyer education class attendance, is nowhere near the amount of people who apply for the loans and purchase a home in the city. Over 10,000 potential homebuyers took the classes, but just a few hundred moved forward with mortgages in Detroit.

The Center for Equitable Family and Community Well-Being at the University of Michigan released the report in 2021 that showed a bevy of housing and mortgage programs are available to Detroiters, high interest to purchase property, and yet unmet financial support even though Detroit’s median household income is just over $30,000.

The Michigan State Housing Development Authority has down payment loan programs that are geared to help residents within a certain income threshold purchase homes across the state and within an income threshold purchase a house and pay back the money after several years. MSHDA also hosts homebuyer education programs, has property improvement and foreclosure programs, and supports a federal tax credit for homebuyers.  

According to the University report, the MSHDA down payment assistance loans were not evenly distributed across Detroit’s neighborhoods and were concentrated on the city’s northwest side. The study reported the loans did not overlap with homes stabilized through Prop N and “do not appear to help Detroiters in areas of the city that are difficult to finance home purchases.”

MSHDA loans increased every year in Detroit’s District 2, which falls within the Live Local program area, over a five-year period. MSHDA awarded seven home loans in District 2 in 2015; eight in 2016; 17 in 2017; 35 in 2018; and 63 in 2019.  

To learn more about the Live Local visit the programs website. Sinai Grace Guild CDC is currently accepting applications to the program. 

Olivia Lewis is a reporter for BridgeDetroit. She was formerly a reporter for the Battle Creek Enquirer and the Indianapolis Star. She has also worked in philanthropy for the Kresge Foundation, the Council...

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