Projects

Doctor examining child

Collaborative community-academic research projects

These projects are co-sponsored by the Detroit Community-Academic Urban Research Center, a partnership among the U-M Schools of Public Health, Nursing and Social Work, the Detroit Health Department, Henry Ford Health System; and nine community-based organizations (Community Health and Social Services, Inc., Communities In Schools, Detroit Hispanic Development Corporation, Detroiters Working for Environmental Justice, Eastside Community Network, Friends of Parkside, Institute for Population Health, Latino Family Services, ​Neighborhood Service Organization).

These community-academic projects are unique in that they are committed to using a collaborative community-academic research approach. Using this approach, academic researchers and community representatives work as equal partners to pursue action-oriented research questions and interventions strategies that will benefit the communities involved. These research teams receive one-on-one training and mentorship from the Detroit URC, which is widely recognized as a national leader in community-based participatory research. This training and mentorship focuses on building strong partnerships and identifying strategies for putting research into action.


Barrier Busting in the HOPE Village Neighborhood Network

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

This research is evaluating the effectiveness of 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 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

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

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


Other Projects

Summer Jobs for Youth Success

Large disparities exist in education and economic outcomes persist for youth from different parts of Washtenaw County. Summer jobs programs for at-risk-youth is a primary strategy for closing these gaps. Such programs provide income for youth and their families, provide structured summer activities, improve later academic performance and reduce criminal activity.

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This program will leverage the U-M as a large summer employer for youth, along with our ability to provide educational programming to rigorously assess the outcome using state-of-the-art social science techniques. Youth will be placed in a variety of jobs across the scope of the U-M enterprise, to allow understanding of the impact of the nature of the work on outcomes. The program will include coaching for the youth employees, training for job supervisors, and required Friday programs for the youth. Through randomized studies, Poverty Solutions researchers will evaluate the program on a series of criteria, including comparison groups in otherwise similar summer jobs programs but without U-M placements or program components.

This is the first program of its kind to be conducted by a major university. The goal is to measure outcomes such as youth employee satisfaction, high-school attainment, permanent employment outcomes, college or vocational training enrollment, and also the changes in attitudes in the youth employee supervisors, and to translate those findings to inform youth jobs programs developed by institutions such as government agencies, and other kinds of large company job sites.

H. Luke Shaefer, U-M Poverty Solutions
Mary Jo Callan, U-M Ginsberg Center
University of Michigan Human Resources
University of Michigan Youth Policy Lab


Sustaining Living Wage Jobs

Even as the economy has improved, the unemployment among low-educated workers — especially for those living in high poverty areas like Detroit — remains high.

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This project will build on the State of Michigan’s successful Community Ventures program, which provides stipends to participating employers and support services to help low-income, structurally unemployed adults succeed in the labor market. The State of Michigan and researchers at the University of Michigan will partner to implement a large randomized controlled trial to assess the effects of access to stable employment at a living wage for low-income, structurally unemployed individuals on a series of social and economic outcomes in Detroit, Flint, Pontiac, and/or Saginaw. This program has significant potential to inform policymaking in other states and at the federal level, making a Michigan-based program a model for the nation. This project is funded through the Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab (J-PAL North America).

H. Luke Shaefer, U-M Poverty Solutions
Brian Jacob, U-M Ford School of Public Policy
Elisabeth Gerber, U-M Ford School of Public Policy


Targeting Poverty in the Courts: Improving the Measurement of Ability to Pay

The U-M Online Court Project is developing and testing a robust, objective digital method of evaluating litigants’ ability to pay legal fines to enable courts to make more accurate determinations on ability to pay issues, reduce the number of individuals subjected to insurmountable escalating penalties, and help courts assess when financial sanctions are truly appropriate.

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In March 2015, the U.S. Justice Department issued a scathing report that outlined the systematic criminalization of offenses like parking and minor traffic tickets, and even unmowed lawns. Fines and failure to pay resulted in cascading consequences that illustrate the legal cost of being poor: mounting fines and late fees, license suspensions, and jail. Those affected were disproportionately impoverished and black. As a result, courts across the nation looked at how they handle ability to pay issues and the Michigan Supreme Court handed down new rules that take into consideration material hardship and the defendant’s ability to comply.

The U-M Online Court Project (OCP) will develop and test a robust, objective digital method of evaluating litigants’ ability to pay that will be implemented in partnership with the Michigan 31st District Court of Hamtramck (which has a poverty rate of 48.5%). The method will help defendants provide courts with a complete picture of their financial stability in a fair manner and will assist courts in exploring alternative sanctions for those who cannot pay. The tool will enable courts to make more accurate determinations on ability to pay issues, reduce the number of individuals subjected to insurmountable escalating penalties, and help courts assess when financial sanctions are truly appropriate. It will also further the conversation on the criminalization of poverty and the treatment of poverty in American courts.

JJ Prescott, U-M Law School


Poor, Invisible, and Left Behind: Understanding Financial Instability, Material Hardship, and the Availability and Use of Community Resources among Low-Income Rural Households

This project aims to better understand the financial lives of low-income rural households by examining key determinants of financial instability and material hardship as well as variations in and contextual determinants of nonprofit resources available to rural counties.

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Rural poverty is a prevalent and persistent social problem in the United States, however despite that rural counties comprise over 85% of the poorest counties in the US, factors impacting financial well-being for low-income families living in rural America have been understudied and largely ignored. This project aims to better understand the financial lives of low-income rural households. It will examine key determinants of financial instability and material hardship as well as variations in and contextual determinants of nonprofit resources available to rural counties. Findings from this project will help inform community-level intervention strategies aimed at alleviating material hardship and promoting economic mobility, as well as public and private funding policies aimed at low-income households in rural America.

Mathieu Despard, U-M School of Social Work
Addie Weaver, U-M School of Social Work


Improving Employability via Physical Crowdsourced Tasks

Through collaboration with local Southeast Michigan organizations that specialize in job training, investigators plan to identify real-world tasks and skills that job-seekers need for long-term employment.

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According to the Center for American Progress, one of the top ten solutions to cut poverty and grow the middle class is job creation. This project aims to create a computer-based tool that would match underserved job seekers– such as those who may live in low-socioeconomic regions, have low income, or have limited education– to tasks that could increase their employability. Through collaboration with local Southeast Michigan organizations that specialize in job training, investigators will identify real-world tasks and skills that job-seekers need for long-term employment. Underserved job-seekers will then be recruited to test out a computational tool that links them to opportunities for building such skills. Results from this project will inform efforts to use existing crowdsourcing platforms to build underserved job-seeker skill sets that are likely to lead to long-term employment and ultimately job creation.

Tawanna Dillahunt, U-M School of Information
Walter S. Lasecki, Michigan Engineering, Electrical Engineering and Computer Science


The systemic effects of SNAP benefit cuts on Washtenaw County poverty alleviation institutions

This project will measure the burden of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program cuts on poverty alleviation institutions in Washtenaw county, such as community groups that provide food and housing assistance, government offices tasked with implementing the policy change, and private-public partnerships with farmer’s markets that leverage SNAP dollars.

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In the last three years, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, also known as food stamps) benefits have been cut three times, the most recent reduction is expected to impact between 500,000 and 1 million people in 22 states. In Washtenaw County alone, up to 5,000 people may be affected. This project aims to measure the burden of these cuts on poverty alleviation institutions in Washtenaw county, such as community groups that provide food and housing assistance, government offices tasked with implementing the policy change, and private-public partnerships with farmer’s markets that leverage SNAP dollars. Investigators will analyze existing data and conduct interviews with staff from the Washtenaw County branch of the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, directors of housing assistance programs and food assistance institutions, and former SNAP recipients. Findings will be used to support decision making among poverty alleviation institutions and policy advocacy groups, housing assistance organizations, health clinics and the Washtenaw County Food Policy Council. Additionally, the research design may be used to track the effects of SNAP cuts soon to take effect in other Michigan counties.

Lesli Hoey, U-M Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning
Sue Ann Savas, U-M School of Social Work
Andrew Jones, U-M School of Public Health
Sandra K. Danziger, U-M Ford School of Public Policy
Mary Jo Callan, Director, U-M Edward Ginsberg Center
Markell Miller, Food Gatherers
Kate Kraus, Fair Food Network


Does the Earned Income Tax Credit Reduce Housing Instability?

This research examines whether the Earned Income Tax Credit. a key U.S. social welfare policy and one of the largest cash transfer programs in the U.S., reduces housing instability.

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Housing instability (inability to pay rent, frequent moves, moving in with others/doubling up, eviction, or homelessness) is common among low-income households and is linked with a host of negative outcomes for families and children. As rents have risen and wages have not kept pace, housing affordability has declined over the last 15 years increasing rates of housing instability. This project aims to examine whether the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), a key US social welfare policy and one of the largest cash transfer programs in the US, reduces housing instability. To date, no quantitative research has examined this link. Investigators will examine whether policy-induced expansions in the EITC (exploiting federal and state policy variation over time by family size) reduces housing instability. Findings may be used to consider how expansions to the EITC might be used to reduce housing instability and improve the lives of low-income families.

Natasha Pilkauskas, U-M Ford School of Public Policy
Katherine Michelmore, Syracuse University Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs


Transportation Insecurity: Developing a Measure to Capture an Understudied Dimension of Poverty

This project aims to develop the Transportation Security Index, a tool that operationalizes transportation insecurity by measuring an individual’s ability to get to the places he/she needs to go regardless of transportation used or area of residence.

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Transportation is an often-overlooked dimension of poverty. For example, problems with transportation have been shown to exacerbate multiple symptoms of poverty (e.g. poor mental health outcomes, low levels of access to services, difficulty securing employment). However, no existing measurements in the federal suite of material hardship measures accounts for problems with transportation. This project aims to develop the Transportation Security Index, a tool that operationalizes transportation insecurity by measuring an individual’s ability to get to the places she needs to go regardless of transportation used or area of residence. It will be made available for use by researchers, policy makers, and community groups interested in examining the causes and consequences of transportation insecurity and its relationship to poverty and may also be used to evaluate how transportation-related policies and programs affect socio-economic mobility.

Alexandra K. Murphy, PhD, Assistant Professor, Department of Sociology & Faculty Associate, Population Studies Center, University of Michigan
Jamie Griffin, PhD, Assistant Research Scientist, Survey Research Center, University of Michigan
Alix Gould-Werth, PhD, Adjunct Assistant Research Scientist, Population Studies Center, University of Michigan & Researcher, Mathematica Policy Research