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Detroit youth share vision for $5.7M grant to address homelessness, housing instability

Detroit Youth Homelessness Demonstration Program (YHDP) Staff and Youth Action Board members at Ruth Ellis Clairmount Center for Youth Homelessness Demonstration Program Celebration Luncheon on June 9, 2023. (Photos by Nina Williams)

By Poverty Solutions Youth Communications Fellow Nina Williams

On June 9, the Youth Homelessness Demonstration Program (YHDP) Celebration Luncheon was held at the Ruth Ellis Clairmount Center in Detroit. The celebration was hosted to share an update on how $5.7 million granted to the City of Detroit for youth experiencing housing instabilities has been allocated so far. On this day, five members of the Detroit Phoenix Center Youth Action Board shared their stories of what it was like to experience housing instabilities at a young age and how they’ve overcome their challenges to now become the young leaders for others who have gone through similar situations.

Youth homelessness in Detroit

Between 11-16% of Detroit K-12 students faced homelessness or housing instability in 2021-22, according to a new study from Wayne State University College of Education’s Detroit Partnership for Education Equity & Research (Detroit PEER) in partnership with University of Michigan’s Poverty Solutions.

In July of 2021, Detroit Continuum of Care applied for the federal Youth Homelessness Demonstration Program (YHDP) grant to support a coordinated community approach to preventing and ending youth homelessness. In September 2021, Detroit was selected to receive $5.7 million, which led the community into a coordinated planning process. The mission and vision of youth and young adults centers around collective efforts toward building an equitable and inclusive community where youth and young adults of all backgrounds (LGBTQ+ and BIPOC, parenting, etc) have a support system during housing instability crises. To achieve this goal, the program is now focusing on improving permanent housing systems, creating access to rapid rehousing assistance for youth, and building responsive mental health services in Detroit. The luncheon celebrated the hard work of the board members to turn their vision into a reality.

Detroit Phoenix Center staff and Youth Action Board members gather at Youth Homelessness Demonstration Program Celebration Luncheon at Ruth Ellis Clairmount Center on June 9, 2023.

The Detroit Phoenix Center is a nonprofit organization that responds to the needs of underserved and street-connected youth in Detroit. In this organization, the Youth Action Board (YAB) helps instill leadership and direction into programs being implemented at the Detroit Phoenix Center and in the community of Detroit. At this celebration, Azaria Terrell, Armani Arnold, Amber Mattews, Ajanae Robinson, and Keyanna Evans told their stories of what it means to be a leader for others at the Detroit Phoenix Center. These youth supported the grant funding process from the very beginning and will continue to support the progress of instilling youth-led projects into the city of Detroit.

(From left to right) Ajanae Robinson, Armani Arnold, Amber Mathews, and Azaria Terrell at Youth Homelessness Demonstration Program Celebration Luncheon (YHDP) at Ruth Ellis Clairmount Center on June 9, 2023.

A central part of the YHDP grant is that it is youth-led and centers youth experience and expertise. During this luncheon, each of the youth were allowed time to share their experiences with one another. This panel allowed for bonds to be shaped among adults and youth going through housing instabilities, clarity in understanding how adults can help youth, and hearing the voices of youth who have prevailed to become leaders of those who have gone through similar experiences.

While many would believe that most of the actions being created through the process was done by adults, it was actually youth who have been involved in every step of the way. Each of these youth have spoken their mind, incorporated their ideas and told the city of Detroit what they can do to better provide for youth going through housing insecurities.

Learning from youth leaders

To support youth in their vision for ending homelessness, U-M’s Poverty Solutions has been collaborating with the Detroit Phoenix Center to support youth-led communications projects focused on the change youth want to see in their communities. As a part of this ongoing work, Poverty Solutions’ Youth Communications Fellow Nina Williams asked the Youth Advisory Board members about their thoughts on youth homelessness and their roles in leadership. The fellowship, which is supported by the McGregor Fund, aims to amplify youth voices in conversations about homelessness in Detroit.

Williams: What has being a part of the decision making process been like for you in terms of helping make decisions for future generations who may be going through housing instabilities?

Ajanae Robinson

Ajanae Robinson: For me, this process has been nothing short of amazing, honestly, for the past two years. We spent (time) doing a lot of strategic planning, with key decision making, with the budget that we were granted from the city of Detroit, $6 million. We’ve been able to use this time to make key decisions and also pick our sub recipients who will be given the money from the budget. So we’ve been doing a bit of the administrative task and the background work of formulating what the project will look like, what it will tell, and how it is to service each nonprofit organization.

Williams: What is it like being a youth leader in your sector and do you have any advice for future leaders?

YAB members and speaker Azaria Terrell at Ruth Ellis Clairmount Center on June 9, 2023.

Azaria Terrell: Being a youth leader, it’s very amazing cause you just continue to just learn more about yourself, more about the world, your community. Being a youth leader is even better cause you get to watch these youth grow into their leadership positions. Something I would say to incoming youth leaders (is) … never be afraid to take time for yourself, never. Your mental health is the most important. And then, just be prepared and excited for the change that you’re gonna make in your community and the change you’re gonna see in yourself.

Williams: What are some misconceptions about youth homelessness? What do you wish people knew?

Amber Mathews: We are not lazy. We do not all have behavior problems. There are so many different things that factor into youth homelessness and I’m so tired of the stigma being that “they are lazy, they don’t listen, they have behavior problems.” That is not true. … They got so much fire in them to change what’s going on but nobody wanted to listen to them.

Williams: How have you grown or changed through your work with YHDP?

Keyanna Evans: I’ve grown in patience and experience in collaboration. Realizing that we are all here with the same goal in the end has shown me that wholesome work like this comes with great effort and patience.

Armani Arnold

Williams: What do you think is the vision for ending youth homelessness?

Armani Arnold: We’re getting close to figuring out how we can help, what ways we can tackle to assist with the stereotype barriers around youth homelessness. Cause it’s more than just not having a home and a place to stay at.


People gathering at the Ruth Ellis Clairmount Center at Youth Homelessness Demonstration Program Celebration Luncheon (YHDP) on June 9, 2023.

Correction: A previous version of this article misstated the entity that applied for the federal Youth Homelessness Demonstration Program grant.


U-M’s Poverty Solutions marks impact of action-based research in 2022

By Lauren Slagter
Poverty Solutions

ANN ARBOR – From informing the way the U.S. Census estimates populations to reimagining land contracts as a path to homeownership and inspiring state legislation that would aid youth experiencing homelessness, Poverty Solutions at the University of Michigan continued to tackle the structures of poverty through action-based research in 2022.

“Each day, we partner with communities and policymakers to find new ways to prevent and alleviate poverty and empower families to live healthy and productive lives,” said H. Luke Shaefer, founding faculty director of Poverty Solutions, the Hermann and Amalie Kohn Professor of Social Justice and Social Policy, and a professor of social work.

The university-wide, interdisciplinary initiative worked with 158 faculty affiliates spanning U-M’s three campuses and 65 student research assistants representing 10 academic departments last year. Poverty Solutions’ annual impact report, released this week, highlights key areas of impact, including:

  • Conducting an independent audit of Detroit’s 2020 Census population estimates, which found evidence of an undercount. In response to the findings, U.S. Sen. Gary Peters proposed broadening the scope of data allowable in challenging Census population estimates to make it easier for cities to submit high-quality administrative data and other sources;
  • Providing foundational analysis that informed a $13 million investment in the Detroit Eviction Fund to help implement Detroit’s new Right to Counsel ordinance;
  • Informing legislative efforts in Michigan and Maryland to promote supportive land contracts as a path to homeownership with regulations that guard against predatory contracts for people with limited access to mortgages and traditional credit;
  • Inspiring a package of bills in Michigan that will make it easier for youth experiencing homelessness to access health care; and
  • Recommending ways for Washtenaw County to maximize long-term impact and promote equity with one-time spending of American Rescue Plan Act funds.

“We look to local leaders when setting our research agenda, which often takes our work in exciting and unexpected directions. We want to be responsive to community needs and play a role in bringing research, analysis, and evaluation to the table,” said Mara Ostfeld, associate faculty director and communications director at Poverty Solutions, research director at the Center for Racial Justice, and assistant research scientist at the Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy.

On campus, Poverty Solutions creates learning opportunities for students through its annual Real-World Perspectives on Poverty Solutions speak series that doubles as a course, the Poverty Solutions certificate program offered in partnership with the School of Social Work’s Community Action and Social Change minor, and student research opportunities for undergraduates through doctoral students.

The research initiative has supported the launch of seven new faculty pilot projects and several transdisciplinary initiatives led by faculty all over campus, including Housing Solutions for Health Equity with the School of Public Health, the Crafting Democratic Futures project in partnership with the Center for Social Solutions, and the Program for Equity in Adolescent and Child Health with Michigan Medicine. Poverty Solutions staff and faculty affiliates published more than 30 high-profile academic journal articles, policy briefs, and working papers in 2022.

“Poverty Solutions takes an active role in fostering relationships among faculty and students. We want to support the next generation of leaders in understanding the systems that perpetuate racial and socio-economic inequality as well as advancing efforts to eliminate poverty,” said Kristin Seefeldt, associate faculty director for education programs at Poverty Solutions and an associate professor of social work and public policy.


Partner Profile: Detroit Phoenix Center

In the wake of the economic upheaval of the pandemic, 43% of Detroit parents reported they fell behind on housing payments in 2021, putting their families at risk of eviction, housing instability, and homelessness. The Detroit Phoenix Center is a crucial source of support for youth in Detroit without a stable place to live. Every year, the nonprofit serves hundreds of young people, meeting their basic needs and offering leadership development opportunities. Courtney Smith, founder and CEO of the Detroit Phoenix Center, talked with the University of Michigan about how the organization meets immediate needs while pursuing systemic change.

Visit the U-M Detroit page to learn more about Poverty Solutions’ partnership with the Detroit Phoenix Center.

Bringing it home: improving tomorrow’s living environments

By Anissa Gabbara | Art by Kara Fields

U-M experts discuss the challenges of creating affordable, quality housing and leading the charge for reform

ANN ARBOR – Access to quality housing is essential to our well-being and the gateway to resources. Unfortunately, this basic necessity remains out of reach for far too many families, creating an ongoing crisis plaguing millions of Americans. In fact, in 2020, 30% of all U.S. households had “unaffordable” rent or mortgage payments, defined as exceeding 30% of monthly household income.*

Jonathan Massey, Dean, Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning

“Since the housing crisis is an intersectional and multidimensional issue, it’s important that we identify the most promising, and sometimes the most daring, strategies to tackle each of those issues to integrate them in new visions for how we house our families and communities,” said Jonathan Massey, dean and professor of architecture at the Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning.

And with its tremendous breadth of researchers, faculty, and students combined with robust community partnerships, U-M is uniquely positioned to lead the charge.

“Housing is just an incredibly central piece of the stability of families. Understanding who has access to certain neighborhoods and who has access to housing stock is critical, and the University of Michigan has a lot of expertise here,” said Luke Shaefer, Hermann and Amalie Kohn Professor of Social Justice and Social Policy at the Ford School of Public Policy, professor of social work, and director of U-M’s Poverty Solutions.

A slew of challenges

Three major problem areas surround our current living environments:

  • Affordability, especially as the cost of housing is rapidly rising. This can be attributed to low and unstable incomes, and a short supply of affordable housing, resulting in a spike in home prices—and, in many cases, homelessness. Additionally, the cost of home repairs to improve living environments adds an extra burden on many homeowners.
  • Health, specifically the effects of lead exposure caused by toxic legacy infrastructures that contaminate drinking water, as well as lead-based paint in older homes polluting the air.
  • Sustainability issues stemming from home design and construction. Massey notes that between 30 and 40% of total human carbon emissions come from the built environment.

In addition to these overarching issues, Massey sees housing as one of the mechanisms that produces and sustains racial disparities in health, wealth, education, employment, and overall life opportunity.

What’s more, the broader issue of homelessness has a significant impact on educational outcomes. This is a key focus area for Shaefer.

“The subgroup among public school students in the state of Michigan that has the most difficulty in school is homeless children, who are the most likely to be chronically absent, so they’re not getting to school to begin with,” Shaefer said.

A holistic approach

Mending matters of this magnitude can’t happen overnight. But U-M sees an opportunity to harness its extensive research and practice knowledge from across campus to improve living environments for all. The Collective for Equitable Housing (CEH) is one of the most visible efforts. Established in 2021 as the first platform for Taubman College and U-M to study housing holistically, CEH builds upon cross-campus relationships, as well as institutional, governmental, and organizational partnerships.

Sharon Haar, Professor of Architecture

“The goal is to build upon capacities at Taubman College and interact with others across the university to develop more interdisciplinary and actionable research that can put forth propositions for how to transform financing, policy, or regulatory barriers that have big impacts on the provision of affordable housing,” said Sharon Haar, professor of architecture at the Taubman College.

Leveling the playing field

Before the pandemic, Poverty Solutions and Taubman faculty discovered that in one Michigan county, only 4% of people being evicted had access to legal counsel. This data shows a lack of protections in place for families facing eviction.

H. Luke Shaefer

Luke Shaefer, Director, Poverty Solutions

“We’ve been looking at proposals for right to counsel where if somebody is facing eviction—maybe they should be evicted, maybe they shouldn’t—they deserve to have a lawyer,” Shaefer said.

Another startling statistic? Since 2008, nearly one-third of Detroit homes have been lost to tax foreclosure, as policies that were meant to help families stay in their homes became difficult to access.

“As part of a massive coalition, our scholars were part of bringing some evidence-based changes to those policies, and it’s really increased the number of people who’ve been able to access them,” Shaefer said.

Investing in the future

In 2016, Taubman College partnered with the City of Detroit Planning and Development Department (PDD) to re-envision local neighborhoods with the launch of Systems Studio. U-M students were assigned to work at targeted sites that were deemed a priority by PDD, thinking of innovative ways to design housing, while also considering social and economic aspects, such as inclusive housing and affordability.

“Students were working on real sites that were going to be developed, doing research and first passes at urban design opportunities, density, and programs, and what might actually happen there,” Haar said.

Students present their final projects to faculty, staff from Detroit PDD, and other invited guests during a final review in the Systems Studio class.

When it comes to mitigating the negative effects of climate change, architecture faculty at U-M are collaborating with the College of Engineering to test out new construction methods that specifically aim to reduce carbon outputs from construction, such as the use of timber, which emits a significantly lower amount of carbon than concrete or steel. These new building methods also use digital-design tools and digital fabrication, such as robotics for 3D printing and human-robot collaborations in building construction.

Furthermore, Poverty Solutions has pushed to make home repair resources available in Detroit for projects like lead abatement work and replacing roofs to weatherize homes. In fact, former research assistant Ryan Ruggiero (MPP ’19) created a resource guide that lists available home repair programs in the city, what they provide, and who’s eligible. According to Shaefer, it’s one of Poverty Solutions’ most successful publications.

A communal effort

To aid in U-M’s initiatives and connect them with the Detroit community to support collective work in this space, the Rocket Community Fund and the McGregor Fund, among others, have taken up the gauntlet.

“The University of Michigan has been a critical partner in ensuring that we understand the impact of existing programs, as well as the gaps that must be addressed to better support Detroit residents,” said Laura Grannemann, vice president of the Rocket Community Fund. “U-M research has helped us evaluate tax foreclosure prevention programs, bolster homeownership, and define next steps in complex issues like increasing access to home repair.”

Vanessa Samuelson (BS ’02), director of learning and reports at the McGregor Fund, sees philanthropic support as a bridge that connects U-M’s resources directly with communities already addressing homelessness and the housing crisis.

“Philanthropy can pay for resources for community-based work to end homelessness that public funding sources often don’t—resources that can amplify the voices and wisdom of community, connect local action to centers of power, and support learning processes that reflect on what is working, how, and why,” Samuelson said.

Pioneering change

Confronting the housing crisis takes an all-hands-on-deck approach, and Massey believes that U-M’s unparalleled capacity can ignite a housing transformation.

“Every part of a great research university like Michigan has a role to play in tackling the housing crisis,” Massey said. “For instance, we need the policy insights of the Ford School, we need the construction expertise of engineers and scientists and architects, we need the design ingenuity of the architect, and we need the understanding of communities from the School of Social Work. Ultimately, the School of Education knows a lot about what kinds of communities and school systems are going to foster the success of the people who live in the housing. Not every university can offer you access to the very leading edge of innovation the way University of Michigan can.”

*According to Harvard University’s 2022 State of the Nation’s Housing report, sponsored by Habitat for Humanity.



U-M public policy professors awarded Equitable Growth grant to study effects of expanded Child Tax Credit

By Lauren Slagter

ANN ARBOR – With support from the Washington Center for Equitable Growth, public policy professors at the University of Michigan’s Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy will delve deeper into exploring the effects of the expanded Child Tax Credit on household economic well-being

The expanded Child Tax Credit was a pivotal part of the pandemic safety net, contributing to a historically low child poverty rate in 2021 when families received the tax credit as monthly payments. A $70,000 grant announced last month will enable Natasha Pilkauskas and Katherine Michelmore, both associate professors of public policy; with H. Luke Shaefer, the Hermann and Amalie Kohn professor of social justice and social policy; to examine how the expanded Child Tax Credit impacted low-income households’ experience of material hardship, debt, savings, and employment, with a focus on racial disparities in receipt of the tax credit. 

“Existing evidence reveals the monthly Child Tax Credit payments reduced poverty, and especially child poverty, despite the economic downturn related to the COVID-19 pandemic. Our research going forward will explore non-income outcomes related to the expanded tax credit, like the ability to afford basic necessities and get enough food to eat,” Pilkauskas said. 

The U.S. Census Bureau credited the expanded Child Tax Credit with contributing to a 46% decline in child poverty, from 9.7% in 2020 to 5.2% in 2021 – the lowest Supplemental Poverty Measure child poverty rate on record. The Supplemental Poverty Measure, which takes into account safety net programs, tax credits, and regional differences in the cost of living, is broadly considered more accurate than the government’s Official Poverty Measure.

The expanded Child Tax Credit, which was distributed as monthly payments of up to $300 per child from July to December 2021, increased the amount of the credit and made it available to the poorest families, who previously were not eligible. In 2022, the Child Tax Credit returned to its previous form, providing families with a lump sum as part of their tax refund and excluding families with no income. 

In 2021, Pilkauskas and Michelmore authored a series of policy briefs on receipt and usage of the monthly CTC payments among families with low incomes. They analyzed survey data from Propel, the creators of a Providers mobile application that helps over 5 million families manage their Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits. 

“The survey data revealed parents were using their CTC payments to pay for basic needs and child-related expenses. We also found disparities in which families received the tax credit, with families making less than $500 a month and Hispanic parents being substantially less likely to receive the monthly payments for which they qualified at the end of 2021,” Michelmore said.  

Shaefer has conducted ongoing analysis of material hardship levels during the pandemic. That research found a direct link between the level of hardship faced by U.S. households and the federal government’s response in the form of stimulus checks, expanded unemployment insurance, and the expanded Child Tax Credit. Shaefer is among a group of poverty scholars that have contributed significant research on the potential for an expanded Child Tax Credit that follows the design of a child allowance to reduce child poverty rates in the U.S.

In the past two years, the United States made more progress in reducing child poverty than ever before as a result of smart, evidence-based public policies. A better understanding of the effects of the expanded Child Tax Credit can help policymakers make informed decisions about the best ways to support families struggling to afford basic necessities,” said Shaefer, who is the founding director of U-M’s Poverty Solutions, an interdisciplinary initiative that partners with communities and policymakers to find new ways to prevent and alleviate poverty through action-based research. 

A forthcoming policy brief from Pilkauskas, Michelmore, and Shaefer will provide insights into how families spent the monthly CTC payments and how the payments affected their experience of material hardship and employment decisions. 

Related reading

Op-ed in Vox: Child poverty in the US was stagnant – and then something changed 

New York Times: Pandemic aid cut US poverty to new low in 2021, Census Bureau reports

State & Hill: Changing the conversation around child poverty

Poverty Solutions research on the economic impact of COVID-19

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Amplifying youth voices to drive change in Detroit

U-M’s Poverty Solutions collaborated with Detroit Phoenix Center’s Summer Leadership Academy to support youth-led communications projects

Poverty Solutions marks five years of research, policy impact

By Lauren Slagter
Poverty Solutions

Since its launch in 2016, Poverty Solutions at the University of Michigan has built an action-based research program that has informed efforts to prevent and alleviate poverty in Michigan and across the country.


As the university-wide initiative celebrates five years of public policy impact, Poverty Solutions faculty and staff reflected on the partnerships with policymakers, service providers, nonprofits and community groups at the local, state and national levels.

“We know scholars don’t have all the answers, and yet we have an important role to play. We can bring data, evidence and analysis to identify critical issues and evidence-based solutions,” said H. Luke Shaefer, founding faculty director of Poverty Solutions, the Hermann and Amalie Kohn Professor of Social Justice and Social Policy, and a professor of public policy and social work.

“What we care most about is whether our work fosters change that empowers families. Our record on this is what I am most proud of.”

Poverty Solutions has leveraged the expertise of hundreds of faculty affiliates across the university, utilized staff-led research, and involved hundreds of students in its work to better understand and address the systemic causes of poverty.

Its five-year impact report, released this week, summarizes efforts to:

The report also gives an overview of:

  • Cross-campus projects, including faculty grants and the annual Real-World Perspectives on Poverty Solutions Speakers Series.
  • Washtenaw County initiatives, such as the SummerWorks youth employment program and the Opportunity Index.
  • Detroit partnerships, like the Detroit Partnership on Economic Mobility and the Detroit Metro Area Communities Study.
  • State-level collaborations, including advising the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services and addressing child poverty in Emmet County.
  • National engagement, such as having four Poverty Solutions scholars testify at U.S. Congressional hearings.

“There is still much to be done to prevent and alleviate poverty. Poverty Solutions remains committed to analyzing how policies and systems affect poverty rates in the U.S. and addressing the connections between poverty and structural racism,” said Kristin Seefeldt, associate faculty director of Poverty Solutions and associate professor of social work and public policy.

“Structural racism and its effects are deeply embedded in both the causes and consequences of poverty, and we need to pay particular attention to this when designing and promoting solutions.”

Poverty Solutions will continue to foster an interdisciplinary approach to poverty alleviation, train the next generation of leaders working to eliminate poverty, and deepen partnerships with community organizations and policymakers to ensure the initiative’s research is responsive to real-world needs and has practical application.

“The pandemic put a spotlight on the underlying disparities in our society that contribute to poverty,” said Mara Ostfeld, associate faculty director at Poverty Solutions and assistant research scientist at the Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy. “Our communities have faced profound challenges over the past few years, and we hope to expand our partnerships to address these challenges together.”


Black Michiganders: Key findings from U-M Poverty Solutions

Contact: Lauren Slagter,
Jared Wadley, 

Black History Month, which is celebrated every year in February, highlights the experiences and honors the achievements of Black Americans throughout history. Poverty Solutions at the University of Michigan highlights key data from its research that relates to Black Michiganders.



The percentage of Black Detroiters who were wearing masks early in the pandemic (March-April 2020). A representative survey from U-M’s Detroit Metro Area Communities Study demonstrates that Black Detroit residents adopted these safety measures earlier than other groups. While 59% of Black residents were wearing masks at that point in the pandemic, only 38% of White residents and 35% of Latino residents were doing so. This difference was no longer apparent by early May 2020, when widespread mask use was more common among all ethnoracial groups.

In June 2021, however, this ethnoracial gap in the use of protective measures reemerged. Black Detroiters (81%) were more than twice as likely as White Detroiters (38%) to report wearing masks all of the time when in public to keep themselves safe from COVID-19. Latino Detroiters (77%) reported wearing masks all of the time in public at a rate similar to their Black neighbors.



Percent of Detroit residents who voted yes on Proposal R in support of Detroit City Council creating a reparations taskforce “to make recommendations for housing and economic development programs that address historical discrimination against the Black community in Detroit” in Detroit’s November 2021 election.


The proposal stemmed from the work of Lauren Hood, the community fellow for a research project led by U-M’s Center for Social Solutions with support from Poverty Solutions and other university departments. This project, titled “Crafting Democratic Futures: Situating Colleges and Universities in Community-based Reparations Solutions,” will build on institutional and community-based partnerships to explore localized reparations solutions for African American and some Native American communities across the country. 

U-M is supporting three community fellows in facilitating conversations about reparations in Michigan communities: Hood in Detroit, Alize Asberry Payne in Ann Arbor/Ypsilanti, and Asa Zuccaro in Flint. 



The estimated number of Black American fugitives from slavery who found safe haven in Canada before 1865. By the mid-1830s, the Detroit River was the busiest transit point for freedom-seekers along the entire Canada-U.S. border. David Porter, Poverty Solutions faculty affiliate and professor of English and comparative literature at U-M, helped launch the Detroit River Story Lab to support narrative infrastructure projects along the Detroit River corridor. They use the term “narrative infrastructure” to refer to the fabric of shared stories that binds a community together. Investing in narrative infrastructure consequently entails elevating and celebrating community stories – especially those traditionally marginalized – and supporting projects that incorporate them into how people understand places and form attachments to them.

The Detroit River Story Lab focuses on three overlapping components of narrative infrastructure: place-based education, community heritage, and nonprofit journalism. In each of these areas, the researchers work alongside partner organizations to help gather, contextualize, and share out river-related stories in ways that align with community priorities and activate riverside locations as sites of connection, stewardship, and healing. 



The average number of land contracts or memorandums of contract filed each year with the Wayne County Register of Deeds between 2009-2017, according to Poverty Solutions faculty affiliate Joshua Akers, associate professor of geography and urban studies at UM-Dearborn, and colleague Eric Seymour at Rutgers University.

In the wake of the Great Recession, land contracts have reemerged in Detroit and across the country as a prominent alternative pathway to homeownership for households with limited access to capital and lending. A form of seller financing, a land contract is a legal agreement in which a buyer purchases a home through installment payments made directly to a seller; the buyer does not gain equity in the house until the contract is paid in full. Historically, land contracts have carried high interest rates, yielded high rates of eviction, and property owners have used them to exploit Black communities, in part because federal regulations and mortgage lenders excluded Black people from traditional lending opportunities throughout much of the 20th century.

However, some mission-driven organizations in Detroit and Southeast Michigan — including nonprofits, community development organizations, and other community development practitioners — have employed an alternative type of land contact. These organizations use land contracts as a community development tool that provides credit-constrained buyers a viable alternative pathway to homeownership, with fair sales prices, clear terms and conditions, and supports for buyers. In a 2021 brief on the use of land contracts in Detroit, Poverty Solutions Senior Strategic Projects Manager Karen Kling and Evelyn Zwiebach, state and local policy director for Enterprise Community Partners, draw from an extensive literature review and qualitative data collected through interviews and survey research to outline best practices, interventions, and key common-sense reforms that would make land contracts a safer and more effective homeownership tool.



The average auto insurance premium in 2019 for the 37 ZIP codes in Michigan in which more than 50% of residents are Black. This is over $2,000 more than the $3,100 average annual premium for all ZIP codes in Michigan.


Michigan’s new auto insurance law started to take effect in July 2020. Between 2019 and 2020, average estimated rates fell by 18% statewide, the steepest decline of anywhere in the country over that time period. Despite this dramatic fall, Michigan’s auto insurance rates remain among the highest in the nation. In Detroit, in particular, the average rate remains twice as high as the statewide average, according to analysis by Poverty Solutions summarized in a December 2021 policy brief titled “Building on Michigan’s auto insurance reform law.” While these data are preliminary and we may see rates drop more dramatically in the next year, it appears the new law does not go far enough to protect non-White and low-income people from being discriminated against in the insurance market.

To address persistent racial disparities in auto insurance rates, Poverty Solutions researchers Amanda Nothaft and Patrick Cooney recommend more regulation of the factors used to set rates by establishing mandatory driving-related factors that must carry a certain weight in the calculation. The 2019 reform prohibited the use of certain non-driving factors, but insurance companies can still use proxies for those factors like “territories” instead of ZIP code and insurance scores that include a credit score component that reinforce insurance redlining. 


Poverty Solutions partners with 4 Detroit organizations to fund, evaluate economic mobility projects

DETROIT—Four Detroit organizations will receive funding and support from the University of Michigan to enhance the economic stability of affordable housing residents, improve the accessibility of mental health services, teach youth wealth-building strategies, and scale on-the-job training and apprenticeship programs.

Poverty Solutions at U-M, an initiative that aims to prevent and alleviate poverty through action-based research, will provide technical assistance as well as grants of $10,000 to support economic mobility projects led by Church of Messiah Housing Corporation, Journey to Healing, Urban Neighborhood Initiatives, and Wayne Metropolitan Community Action Agency. 

The projects build on findings from “Investing in Us: Resident Priorities for Economic Mobility in Detroit,” a report released by Poverty Solutions in 2020. The report includes analysis of hundreds of sources of information that captured the voices of Detroit residents over 10 years. It then draws on these perspectives to identify common priorities, note progress made in decreasing poverty, and identify opportunities for action to increase economic mobility. The research, and the economic mobility grants, are supported by the Ballmer Group. 

Related: New U-M report lifts up Detroit residents’ priorities for economic mobility

“‘Investing in Us’ highlighted residents’ priorities for improving economic mobility, and the grants support the implementation of some of those ideas,” said Afton Branche-Wilson, assistant director of community initiatives at Poverty Solutions and lead author of Investing in Us. “Poverty Solutions is excited to work alongside these Detroit organizations to help them design and evaluate their services, so other service providers and anti-poverty organizations can learn from their efforts.” 

Here’s a closer look at the economic mobility projects: 

Church of Messiah Housing Corporation’s Economic Self-Sufficiency Initiative

Since 1978, Church of Messiah Housing Corporation (CMHC) has renovated and constructed more than 200 units of affordable housing in Detroit’s lower east side Islandview Village neighborhood. In 2020, the corporation received a grant from Enterprise Community Partners to launch an Economic Self-Sufficiency Initiative, and the economic support services largely took the form of helping residents in the housing corporation’s five housing developments apply for rent assistance during the pandemic. 

Now, CMHC wants to focus on assessing residents’ other needs and helping them prepare Individual Action Plans to address them. The grant will help fund the program, and the technical assistance will consist of assessing program impacts, making program adjustments as needed to improve participant outcomes, and preparing a funding strategy to expand the program and serve more community residents in need. 

“Messiah Housing Corp. is deeply grateful to have the opportunity to work with Poverty Solutions to help it incorporate best practices to improve resident economic stability outcomes and expand the program to serve more community residents. This is much needed to help reduce the wealth gap for households of color in Detroit,” said Richard Cannon, executive director of Church of the Messiah Housing Corp.

>> See more from “Investing in Us”: Investing in Economic Stability – Low Incomes, High Costs

Journey to Healing’s redesign of art therapy materials and case management system

Journey to Healing is a nonprofit dedicated to serving families who have experienced trauma related to grief and loss by connecting them with mental health support systems. Following the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, Journey to Healing developed new tools to assist community members, including the development of a virtual hub that provides telehealth and Zoom services and shipping free art therapy materials to families. This year, the organization has served more than 275 youth and adults with low incomes in Wayne County. 

Based on client surveys and other feedback, Journey to Healing wants to improve the design and delivery of materials for the art therapy kits as well as client intake forms and marketing and educational materials. Journey to Healing plans to use its grant and technical assistance to develop a new case management tool, hold focus groups on how to make materials more accessible, and hire community residents to help design new materials. 

“We are delighted to be selected as a recipient of the Poverty Solutions economic mobility project,” said Shardaya Fuquay, founding executive director of Journey to Healing. “We believe that everyone deserves high-quality mental health services to better support their health and wellness needs. Our organization is dedicated to providing holistic services through art, play, and drama therapy methodologies. As a recipient of this grant, we will expand our reach to serve more families in the Detroit and Wayne metropolitan area.”

>> See more from “Investing in Us”: Investing in Resident Power – Centering Community Voices, Investing in Valued Communities – Health Care

Urban Neighborhood Initiatives’ youth workforce development curricula 

Urban Neighborhood Initiatives has 24 years of youth development experience, working with Southwest Detroit’s Springwells neighborhood. The initiative aims to create a safe and thriving environment for the 5,000 youth ages 14 to 24 who reside in Springwells.

Support from Poverty Solutions will enhance Urban Neighborhood Initiatives’ youth workforce development and summer employment programs by exploring options for wealth-building curricula, identifying training resources so staff can implement the curricula, identifying target outcomes and data collection methods to measure the impact of the new curricula, and supporting a pilot of the new curricula with a small group of youth.

“We are honored to have been selected to partner with Poverty Solutions to continue to improve economic mobility strategies for youth in the Springwells neighborhood of Southwest Detroit,” said Christine Bell, executive director of Urban Neighborhood Initiatives. “We believe that all people deserve to live in a healthy, beautiful place, filled with opportunities. Opportunities to become financially secure are critical to a thriving people and neighborhood. We are grateful and excited to learn together!”

>> See more from “Investing in Us”: Investing in Economic Stability – Education Drives Success

Wayne Metro’s evaluation of workforce development programs

Wayne Metropolitan Community Action Agency (Wayne Metro) provides more than 70 programs aimed at eliminating poverty and empowering Wayne County residents to be strong, healthy, and thriving. The agency’s workforce development programming includes paid apprenticeships and on-the-job training opportunities in the areas of early childhood education, green jobs (such as energy efficiency and water conservation), and various other employment pipelines within the agency such as tax preparation and community resource navigation. All workforce development programs include coaching, soft skills training, digital literacy training, asset building, and wraparound supportive services for the entire family.

With support from Poverty Solutions, Wayne Metro plans to design a program evaluation system, collect data, and evaluate the value of its different workforce development training programs. The grant will be used to compensate participants in the on-the-job training program with Wayne Metro and the apprenticeship program. 

“Wayne Metro uses human-centered design and data to innovate programs to best serve families,” said Sitara Govender, innovative programs director at Wayne Metro, whose team is leading the economic mobility project. “Partnering with Poverty Solutions as we launch our workforce development initiatives means that we’ll be able to evaluate our programming as we go along, identifying barriers and implementing solutions, and making design changes that best meet the needs of participants.”

>> See more from “Investing in Us”: Investing in Economic Stability – “We Need Jobs”: Employment and Training


Poverty Solutions Director Luke Shaefer to give inaugural Kohn lecture on using evidence to fight poverty

ANN ARBOR Poverty Solutions Director H. Luke Shaefer will discuss lessons in using evidence to fight poverty at the inaugural Hermann and Amalie Kohn Professorship in Social Policy and Social Justice Lecture on Nov. 3.

The lecture will take place at 4 p.m. at Weill Hall. The in-person event held in room 1120 is open only to current U-M students, faculty, and staff; doors open at 3:30 p.m., and advance registration is required. The public is welcome to watch via livestream on the Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy’s website.

Shaefer is the Hermann and Amalie Kohn Professor of Social Justice and Social Policy, an endowed professorship supported by the Kohn Collaborative for Social Policy that Harold and Carol Kohn established at the Ford School to catalyze interdisciplinary research on policy that promotes social equity and inclusion for all U.S. residents. Shaefer also is a professor of social work, the Ford School’s assistant dean of research and policy engagement, and the founding director of Poverty Solutions, a five-year-old, university-wide presidential initiative that aims to prevent and alleviate poverty through action-based research.

In his lecture, Shaefer will share case studies in the use of data and evidence to address poverty, making the case that applied research should inform real change. He will discuss both the persistence of disadvantage over many generations in United States and the moments where dramatic change has occurred for the better.