On May 3rd, 2022, the Gilbert Family Foundation, in partnership with ProMedica and DTE, announced the $20 million Detroit Home Repair Fund.
By May 4th, we had received over 120,000 phone calls.
Let me back up a bit. For nearly a decade, the Rocket Community Fund (the philanthropic partner of Rocket Companies) and Gilbert Family Foundation (the personal foundation of Dan and Jennifer Gilbert) have focused on housing stability. Housing is the base of community and family wealth, security and equity. Over the years, our primary investment focus has been on preventing displacement, starting with property tax reform and eviction prevention.
Since 2017, we have worked with dozens of neighborhood organizations to lead door-to-door outreach, engaging residents and connecting them to resources that will help them stay in their homes. One of those resources is the Detroit Tax Relief Fund, which has eliminated the back tax debt of thousands of low-income homeowners.
Because of these partnerships and others, tax foreclosure numbers have decreased by 94% since their peak in 2015, and we have preserved more than $150 million in Detroit wealth.
Additionally, in late May, we announced the Detroit Eviction Defense Fund, which secures a right to counsel for low-income Detroit tenants at risk of eviction.
But just keeping people in their homes is not enough. Together, we must create an environment where Detroiters are both free from displacement and are able to thrive in a safe and stable home.
As we’ve made these investments, we have stayed close to the families who have received support. Their experiences and perspectives guide our strategy. One message from residents is clear: Detroiters are in urgent need of home repair assistance.
Long-term residents of Detroit, many on fixed incomes, often live in housing stock built before 1960. These homes are the foundation of our community, but this foundation is crumbling.
For too long, Detroit residents – especially those in households experiencing poverty – have had to make logical, short-term financial decisions that delay long-term investments. Every day they navigate urgent systems like healthcare, transportation and job access that often disadvantage the poor. Logically, many have put off small roof repairs, paint jobs, or flooding damage thinking, “I’ll get to that soon.”
But small cracks get bigger and more expensive quickly, and suddenly residents are forced to decide between living in unsafe housing conditions and leaving the city altogether.
The launch of the $20 million Detroit Home Repair Fund is an important statement, and we are proud to answer the calls of tens of thousands of Detroiters. We were also proud to partner with Rock Connections (a subsidiary of Rocket Companies) to support the rollout of the Renew Detroit initiative, Mayor Duggan and Detroit City Council’s $30 million repair program.
But even together, our combined investments are only a down payment on what some estimate to be a $4 billion home repair need in Detroit.
So, while we will answer every phone call, we cannot meet the needs of every household alone.
The largest source of funding for home repair comes from the federal government in the form of the Weatherization Assistance Program. Earlier this year, the White House announced the availability of $3.5 billion in Weatherization funds through the new Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. $180 million was projected to flow to Michigan.
However, certain criteria in the Weatherization program disadvantage low-income homeowners in Detroit. For example, a home with a leaky roof is ineligible for assistance because the house will not pass the “home energy audit.” This creates a structural barrier preventing households in poverty, especially those living in older housing stock, from accessing critical assistance.
Housing is inextricably linked with racial and environmental justice, which must be prioritized in Detroit and across the country. We hope the federal government will make targeted changes to the Weatherization program this year to unlock a vital source of home repair funds for Detroiters and other disadvantaged communities.
This is the moment for all public, private and philanthropic partners to support programs like the Detroit Home Repair Fund, because to invest in Detroit home repair is to invest in Detroiters.
And we are worth it.
Grannemann is the executive director of the Gilbert Family Foundation and a Detroit resident.