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Detroiters’ perceptions of their neighborhoods shifted after Strategic Neighborhood Fund investments

The map shows the Detroit neighborhoods that received targeted infrastructure improvements through the Strategic Neighborhood Fund.

Contact: Lauren Slagter, lslag@umich.edu

DETROIT – A study drawing on survey data from the past five years shows that while neighborhood satisfaction fell across Detroit as the pandemic unfolded, neighborhoods that had received targeted infrastructure improvements proved more resilient. 

The survey data reported by University of Michigan researchers showed the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 changed Detroiters’ relationships with their neighborhoods, ushering in an overall decline in satisfaction likely linked to the closure of businesses, stay-at-home orders, the financial toll of the economic shutdown, and rising rates of infection and death. 

The decline in satisfaction was most pronounced in neighborhoods that had not received $262 million in targeted infrastructure investments from the City of Detroit, Invest Detroit, and its partners as part of the Strategic Neighborhood Fund program. 

Lydia Wileden

“The pandemic clearly shaped how Detroiters view their neighborhoods and challenged residents’ sense of local progress. However, our findings show that people’s sense of neighborhood change largely stalled during the pandemic rather than reversing altogether,” said Lydia Wileden, a research associate at U-M’s Detroit Metro Area Communities Study. “This means that rather than losing ground, local investments may have helped stabilize communities during that tumultuous time.” 

Wileden, also a postdoctoral scholar at the University of Chicago’s Mansueto Institute for Urban Innovation, authored a series of reports on the survey data

The later surveys –  in 2022 and 2023 – document the emergence of a “new normal,” when residents’ satisfaction with their neighborhoods, change in quality of life, and perceived change in neighborhood remain mostly level.

In other areas – satisfaction with amenities like the availability of parks and playgrounds and the conditions of streets and sidewalks – resident sentiments rebounded to pre-pandemic levels. Resident perceptions showed signs of positive change related to perceived change in population and neighborhood attractiveness.

The Strategic Neighborhood Fund program is a place-based investment effort to develop dense, safe, mixed-income neighborhoods that boost economic opportunity and improve the quality of life for residents. The Strategic Neighborhood Fund is managed by Invest Detroit and consists of a mix of public and philanthropic dollars, plus loans. The program has directed investment to 10 neighborhoods in Detroit mainly via funding for infrastructure improvements, including park improvements, streetscape improvements, commercial corridor development, and the development of affordable single-family housing.

In 2016, the Strategic Neighborhood Fund began investing in Detroit’s Southwest/Vernor, Livernois/McNichols, and Islandview/Greater Villages neighborhoods. In 2018, the fund started directing resources to seven more neighborhoods: Grand River/Northwest, Warrendale/Cody Rouge, Russell Woods/Nardin Park, Campau/Banglatown, Jefferson Chalmers, East Warren/Cadieux, and Gratiot/7 Mile. 

The Gilbert Family Foundation announced in May a $15 million commitment to kick off a third phase of Strategic Neighborhood Fund investments in the same 10 neighborhoods. 

In 2019, 69% of Detroiters said they were satisfied with their neighborhood compared to 62% in 2023. The decline in satisfaction was most pronounced in neighborhoods that had not received targeted infrastructure investments, where satisfaction fell from 69% in 2019 to 60% in 2023. 

Over the same time period, satisfaction fell from 80% to 71% in the first set of neighborhoods that received Strategic Neighborhood Fund investments (SNF 1.0), from 74% to 70% in the more advantaged second set of neighborhoods that received the investments (SNF 2.1), and from 58% to 51% in the less advantaged second set neighborhoods that received the investments (SNF 2.2).

Jermaine Ruffin

“It’s invaluable to know what residents think of the changes in their neighborhoods made by Strategic Neighborhood Fund investments. The University of Michigan’s Detroit Metro Area Communities Study gives us a unique tool to understand neighborhood revitalization efforts through the eyes of residents as the investments are happening and in the years afterward,” said Jermaine Ruffin, Invest Detroit’s senior vice president of neighborhoods.

The Detroit Metro Area Communities Study started to survey Detroiters about their neighborhoods in 2019, when initial investments in the first set of neighborhoods were coming to fruition and investments in the second set of neighborhoods were still in the planning phase. The surveys continued in 2021, 2022, and 2023 and asked about:

  • neighborhood satisfaction; 
  • quality of life; 
  • neighborhood reputation;
  • satisfaction with neighborhood amenities like affordable housing, stores, condition of streets and sidewalks, and public facilities;
  • change over time in neighborhood attractiveness, population, and business presences;
  • change over time in rent costs and housing values; and
  • perceptions of crime and safety.

In all, the surveys captured nearly 9,000 observations across four points of time from 4,012 Detroiters. 

In addition to the over-time analysis, titled “Examining Neighborhood Sentiments Among Residents of SNF Neighborhoods Over Time,” the research team is releasing four reports that summarize variation in resident sentiments related to the Strategic Neighborhood Fund investments for each study year. Those reports can be found here:

2019 Report

2021 Report

2022 Report

2023 Report