David Merritt, part-owner of Narrow Way Cafe and Shop, spoke to Deputy Secretary of U.S. Housing and Urban Development after she purchased a coffee. (Photo by Olivia Lewis)

Detroit’s affordable housing and neighborhood revitalization work for the last eight years has largely focused on developing streetscapes, parks, commercial corridors and family stabilization. That’s due to millions invested in the Strategic Neighborhood Fund, a public-private investment that is supposed to serve 10 Detroit neighborhoods.  

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The fund, of $169.4 million from 2013 to 2023, has helped revitalize areas like the Livernois and McNichols commercial corridor that holds a cornucopia of Black-owned businesses and furthered the stronghold of historically Black neighborhoods like Bagley on Detroit’s northwest side. City, state, and federal dollars were used to create the fund and used as leverage to attract major private investments that have now outpaced federal dollars. While many longtime Detroit residents question the City’s reliance on private donors, the federal government is encouraging Detroit to lean on private donors as the likelihood of more federal dollars heading to Detroit is unknown.

Of the $169.4 million within the SNF investment, $72 million is from philanthropic grants, $12.7 million is from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, $69.7 million is from the City of Detroit, and $15 million from the State.

Deputy Secretary Adrianne Todman of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development visited Detroit last week for a media tour of city developments that have received SNF investment. Stops included the Livernois and McNichols areas, Islandview and the Greater Villages neighborhoods.  

Todman also emphasized the importance of public-private investment and said “government can’t do it alone.”

“It is rare when the government is 100 percent in, it’s extraordinarily rare,” she told BridgeDetroit. “It’d be great if the state and city and federal government could have enough resources that we didn’t need that private sector funds, but I think that when you have public-private partnership, I think it creates accountability in a way that is that no one party has all the hands in the basket.” 

But the accountability part is what Detroiters have questioned since SNF was introduced in 2014. Two of the SNF neighborhoods haven’t received any federal or leveraged dollars since the 2018 expansion of the program from three neighborhoods to 10 and some have questioned Detroit’s priorities with SNF funds. 

Deputy Secretary Adrianne Todman took a tour of Detroit neighborhood developments through Strategic Neighborhood Fund investments. (Photo by Olivia Lewis)

SNF Investments fall into six buckets: neighborhood planning, streetscapes, parks, single-family stabilization, commercial corridors, and lead removal or home repair. The $69.7 million of SNF dollars from the City, were used for parks, streetscapes and neighborhood planning. Creating a space for residents to live, work, and play has been advantageous for local businesses housed along the commercial corridors, including recipients of the Motor City Match Program, a HUD and Detroit-funded program that awards grants to local business owners. 

Though progress has been slow, local Motor City Match business-owners said they have been burdened by and benefited from the neighborhood changes sparked by public-private investment. The streetscapes on Livernois backed-up traffic, paused business and was a multi-year process to create a walkable commercial corridor.

David Merritt, part-owner of Narrow Way Café and Shop on Livernois, said he “won’t sugarcoat it.”

“It was tough, the streetscape project was tough,” he said. “But it was worth it.”

Narrow Way, like many other small and Black-owned businesses in the area, was a recipient of the City’s Motor City Match program. There are now over a dozen match recipients along Livernois that have supported the growth of Black-owned businesses and increased resident access to those businesses.

Merritt said the changes have been important to bolster not just the local economy but support the surrounding historically Black neighborhoods.

“It’s our community right here surrounded by Black neighborhoods,” he said. “Why would it be different? I think we know the best for what our people need.”

While Detroit has focused on boosting the local economy in hopes of strengthening neighborhood housing, strides have been made in preserving and creating one-and-two bedroom affordable rental properties. However, the need for affordable single-family homes remains, especially after tax foreclosure issues prevented longtime Detroiters from keeping their homes.

Todman said she leaves that conversation for local officials.

“It’s the folks on the ground whose responsibility it is to see what’s coming, what’s around the bend, what’s the need…,” she said.

The Deputy Secretary said local leaders should know who is moving into a city and avoid overcrowded areas. She also said the community’s voice should be prioritized in housing discussions.

“I mean, if the city needs three and four, maybe five bedrooms, you know, my hope is that the local leaders will see that market, you know, and build to it,” she said.

That may come to the dismay of Detroiters who historically have little trust in local government and feel their needs have not been prioritized in the long term changes in Detroit. Residents reported 13 issues, including neighborhood development and housing stability, as top priorities in Detroit in the BridgeDetroit Community Priorities Model Progress Report

HUD funding has also decreased in Detroit over the last decade and the lack of middle-class tax dollars at the local level have left a gap in potential housing support in the city.

Julie Schneider, director of Detroit’s Housing and Revitalization Department said that if the city doesn’t receive an increase in federal funding, Detroit will continue to face challenges in meeting the need for affordable housing in neighborhoods across the city. Detroit did not ask for more funding during the deputy secretary’s tour. 

“If it costs increasingly more to produce housing, it will result in fewer units being produced or rising rents to make up for those additional costs. That’s why funding through HUD is so important: HUD funds can be used to defray these increasing costs to a tenant while helping to keep rents low or to build more units,” Schneider wrote in an email to BridgeDetroit.

The initial federal funds for the SNF investment were provided through Community Development Block Grants and Declared Disaster Recovery funds. 

Of the $12.7 million in HUD funds directed to Detroit, $3.8 million went to neighborhood planning and $8.9 million went to lead removal, home repair and public facility rehab. None of the HUD funds were used for single-family stabilization or commercial corridors.

When asked what the likelihood of more HUD funding coming to Detroit would be, the deputy secretary said she believes “we have another historic moment to make major investments into people’s lives.”

But Todman didn’t provide specifics or offer figures. The Deputy Secretary said the Biden Administration has already shown its commitment to affordable housing through his proposed 2022 budget — but the budget has yet to be approved by Congress. Todman said the proposed changes would largely add to CDBG funds and HUD staffing needs.

That’s where philanthropy has had to step in.

The Kresge Foundation has been a major player in support for parks, commercial corridors, and single-family stabilization in Detroit — specifically in the Livernois and McNichols area.

Wendy Lewis-Jackson, managing director of the Detroit program, described the tightrope walk of public-private investment. Essentially, philanthropy is willing to participate in the future of the City but Detroit should not rely on private dollars to solve the city’s housing problems.

“Philanthropy has an important role to play in growing affordable housing but alone can’t fill the gaps of what the federal government could do with its billions of dollars. Our tools — whether social investments or grants or our ability to bring people together — can make work move quicker, can remove risk that allows other dollars to flow, can center resident voices, can catalyze private investments, can show proof points of what works, and more. But philanthropy alone can’t solve affordable housing in the city. So public-private partnership is indeed key,” Jackson wrote in a statement to BridgeDetroit.

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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  1. The “public/private partnership” (a euphemism for the corporate domination of the city vision) is also the driving force which is driving (by hook or by crook) low wealth folks out of Detroit.

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