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U-M Launches New Projects to Fight Poverty

ANN ARBOR—On any given day across Michigan nearly 100 homeowners or renters could be evicted—a rate almost one-and-a-half times the national average. That is a problem one of nine new projects funded by Poverty Solutions and with support from the Detroit Urban Research Center aims to tackle in 2019.

“This project is a step in reducing the number of evictions in Michigan because it will help improve the quality of existing eviction data, help explain patterns of evictions, and identify local policies and practices associated with lower rates of eviction,” said Robert Goodspeed, assistant professor of urban planning at the Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning, who will co-lead the project with fellow Taubman emerita professor Margaret Dewar and Elizabeth Benton of the Michigan Advocacy Program.

The eviction project is among nine projects, including two from UM-Dearborn, that kick off this month and are intended to prevent and alleviate poverty. Eight U-M units have received a combined $200,000 for projects to fight poverty this year. Four of these projects involve significant community-academic partnerships, with collaborative research activities facilitated in part by the Detroit Urban Research Center, a partnership among the U-M schools​ of Public Health, Nursing and Social Work; Detroit Health Department; Henry Ford Health System; and nine community-based organizations.

“These projects combine the intellect, research and purpose-driven efforts of the University of Michigan and our partners to bring about positive change,” said H. Luke Shaefer, director of Poverty Solutions and associate professor at the Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy and School of Social Work. “These investments in finding out what works bring us closer to identifying concrete solutions to many of the poverty challenges of our time.”

Work will begin this month to test a variety of models to address poverty, including:

  • Examining the role of bias in access to banking and credit—both important tools in overcoming poverty—so that decision-makers have the information they need to revise consumer protections and ensure equal banking access.
  • Understanding trauma’s impact on high school graduation and youth’s economic well-being and labor market participation to provide better, trauma-informed pathways for disadvantaged youth across Detroit and the state at large.
  • Examining the performance of Michigan’s unemployment insurance system following recent legislative changes.
    Testing a new approach to address health disparities by meaningfully engaging communities in decision-making to prioritize community health needs.
  • Performing a randomized controlled trial in India to analyze and address methods to alleviate the barriers to successful rural-to-urban migration for women.
    Addressing sentencing in the criminal justice system through a pilot program that proposes to replace fines and costs with targeted interventions, such as job placement.

“These community-academic partnerships build upon the joint expertise and resources of the university and communities involved to address some of our most pressing problems,” said Barbara Israel, director of the Detroit Urban Research Center and professor at the U-M School of Public Health. “The innovative strategies, rigorous methods and commitment that these partnerships bring to bear on these issues will greatly contribute to reducing poverty and its negative impact.”

This marks the third round of university poverty-related grants since Poverty Solutions launched in 2016. Previous projects have helped improve affordable housing in Detroit by informing new policies; explored new models for providing community-based healthcare and jobs to underserved neighborhoods; and developed new tools to measure insecurity, such as a Transportation Security Index, which 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.

Through projects like these, Poverty Solutions has helped leverage nearly $9 million in external funding to continue to support faculty and partners doing this work.