Collaborative Community-Academic Research Awards

Barrier Busting in the HOPE Village Neighborhood Network

Group of volunteers

Can a small amounts of financial support help those living in poverty avoid significant barriers to economic self-sufficiency? That’s the question being explored through a collaborative project between academic researchers at the U-M Ross School of Business and Focus: HOPE, a nationally-recognized civil and human rights organization in Detroit.

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Sometimes small barriers, solvable with relatively minor amounts of funding, present major obstacles for those living in poverty. For many Detroit residents, these barriers prevent them from making progress toward their goals of economic self-sufficiency. Through a partnership between the Ross School of Business and Focus: HOPE, a nonprofit civil and human rights organization based in Detroit, this project team will introduce and evaluate a “Barrier Buster” pilot program that provides small grants to address these challenges.  This new barrier buster approach is intended to promote economic self-sufficiency among low-income Detroit residents, and has the potential to inform future programming in the region and across the country.

Michael Gordon, U-M Ross School of Business
Noel Tichy, U-M Ross School of Business
Stephanie Moore, Focus: HOPE
Julie Phenis, Focus: HOPE
Debbie Fisher, Focus: HOPE


Helping a House Remain a Home

House key on wood floor

This research is evaluating the effectiveness of a Poverty Tax Exemption for homeowners in poverty who own and occupy their property and study potential factors that may hinder or facilitate its access.

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Each year, non-payment of property taxes causes thousands of Detroit residents to lose their homes to tax foreclosure. Detroit’s exceptionally high tax rate disproportionately burdens low-income residents, threatening their ability to maintain homeownership and attain long-term financial stability. Michigan law (MCL 211.7u) requires local governing bodies to make a Poverty Tax Exemption (PTE) available for homeowners in poverty who own and occupy their property. By reducing or eliminating property taxes for low-income homeowners, this policy works to alleviate poverty by decreasing household tax burden and preventing the devastating financial consequences of property tax foreclosure.

While approximately 12,000 homeowners living in poverty qualify for the PTE, the policy remains underutilized by residents in need. In partnership with the United Community Housing Coalition (UCHC), the Healthy Environments Partnership (HEP) and a researchers at the University of Michigan School of Public Health, this project will evaluate the effectiveness of the policy and study potential factors that may hinder or facilitate its access. Findings will inform best practices across local governing bodies to strengthen this policy’s ability to alleviate poverty in Detroit and statewide.

Roshanak Mehdipanah, U-M School of Public Health
Alexa Eisenberg, U-M School of Public Health
Ted Phillips, United Community Housing Coalition
Michele Oberholtzer, United Community Housing Coalition


Improving Health and Strengthening Communities

Doctor and patient in living room

This project is focused on developing a new model for employing community health workers to serve the Detroit Cody-Rouge neighborhood to significantly improve the physical and economic well-being of its residents.

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Health and poverty are inextricably linked. Health problems interfere with work and education, and poverty exacerbates health problems, producing a cycle of negative influence that maintains both poverty and ill-health. An effective approach to improve health is thru community-based health workers, recruited from and working in their home neighborhoods. Such positions also provide jobs within those same neighborhoods, and so they lower costs for health care and insurance providers, improve health outcomes for community members, and increase economic attainment along multiple dimensions, in a positive cycle that works against poverty.

This project will develop a new model for employing community health workers to serve the Detroit Cody-Rouge neighborhood. It will involve a unique partnership between investigators from U-M’s Institute for Healthcare Policy and Innovation, the Detroit Health Department, health systems, community development organizations, and Medicaid health plans. This unique model has the potential to be the largest infusion of CHW into a community from an allied network of health care providers and to significantly improve the physical and economic well-being of residents in Detroit.

Michele Heisler, U-M Institute for Healthcare Policy & Innovation
David J. Law, Joy-Southfield Community Development Corporation
Abdul El-Sayed, Detroit Health Department


Preserving Low-Income Housing in Detroit

Detroit neighborhood

U-M researchers have teamed up with a Detroit Low-Income Housing Tax Credit task force to explore the financing and ownership to preserve decent affordable housing after 15 years of operation (when many investors sell their ownership).

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The Low-Income Housing Tax Credit (LIHTC) program is the nation’s largest source of financing for building or rehabilitating affordable housing. The sale of the credits provides equity to help finance the production of decent affordable housing for low-income renters who are in or near poverty, many of whom are elderly or disabled or have experienced chronic homelessness. But once projects reach 15 years of operation, investors sell their ownership, often leaving affordable housing projects in need of new sources of capital to provide much needed maintenance. In Detroit, more than 5,300 units will reach 15 years between now and 2020, so finding solutions to restructuring financing and management is an urgent need.

For more than a year, U-M researchers have teamed with a Detroit LIHTC task force to analyze the financing and ownership to preserve decent affordable housing after this critical timeframe. Through this partnership, researchers will determine strategies that can help address the looming crisis. Analysis of solutions is integrated into all parts of the research, and the work will produce recommendations with partners who can implement these through their roles in the affordable housing industry.

Margaret Dewar, U-M Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning
Lan Deng, U-M Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning
Sarida Scott, Community Development Advocates of Detroit
LaToya Morgan, Community Development Advocates of Detroit
Julie Schneider, Detroit Department of Housing and Revitalization
Tahirih Ziegler, Detroit Local Initiatives Support Corporation
Dennis Quinn, Cinnaire
Yulonda Byrd, Cinnaire
Victor Alba, Detroit Local Initiatives Support Corporation
Tim Thorland, Southwest Housing Solutions
Kirby Burkholder, IFF