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Washtenaw County set to launch updated Opportunity Index

Contact: Peter Lindeman, lindemanp@washtenaw.org, 734-417-4021

WASHTENAW COUNTY – Later this month, the Washtenaw County Office of Community and Economic Development (OCED) will be launching the 2020 Opportunity Index. The 2020 Opportunity Index builds off the original 2015 Index, using key data points across five categories – health, job access, economic well-being, education and training, and community engagement and stability – to measure how where you live in Washtenaw County impacts your access to opportunity. The updated Index was created by OCED in partnership with University of Michigan Poverty Solutions, along with a variety of community data partners.

“Structural factors like housing affordability, access to healthcare or early childhood education, and others have a huge impact on an individual’s ability to thrive,” said Teresa Gillotti, director of OCED. “The 2020 Opportunity Index is a tool for policymakers, service organizations, and the community at large to leverage data to foster increased equity in Washtenaw County.”

“Poverty Solutions is a proud partner of the 2020 Opportunity Index,” said Julia Weinert, managing director for University of Michigan Poverty Solutions. “This project has the ability to inform local leaders in their efforts to promote economic mobility by using data and research, which is a mainspring of our collaboration.”

On April 29th from 2-4pmWashtenaw County will host a special Zoom event, DATA DRIVING EQUITY, to officially launch the 2020 Opportunity Index. County leaders and U of M Poverty Solutions will present key findings of the index, demonstrate how to navigate the tool, and explore how to use the data to inform decisions about programming and policy. Register for the event here: www.Washtenaw.me/DataDrivingEquity

“As elected officials, the actions we take should be informed by data to maximize the positive impact we are having in the community,” said Justin Hodge, Washtenaw County commissioner for District 5. “The Board of Commissioners is fully committed to using this important tool to tackle structural inequity in our county so that everyone has the opportunity to meet their full potential.”

At their April 7th meeting, the Board of Commissioners unanimously approved a resolution to integrate the 2020 Opportunity Index into county operations. The resolution mandates the Board utilizes the index as part of their review process for new policies. It also instructs Washtenaw County Government offices and departments to use the index when developing and refining programs, as well as when creating strategic action plans. Moving forward, the Opportunity Index will be updated every other year to ensure decisions are being made with the most up to date understanding of structural disparities in Washtenaw County.

 The 2020 Opportunity Index will officially be live at www.opportunitywashtenaw.org starting on Monday, 4/26.

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Washtenaw County OCED is a government agency committed to stepping out of traditional government roles to drive long-term system changes that increase equity and opportunity for all residents. You can learn more by visiting Washtenaw.org/oced or by following @washtenawOCED on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

The Washtenaw County Board of Commissioners is comprised of nine elected officials representing different Washtenaw County communities. The current Board will serve from January 2021 through December 2022.

Click here to find the list of Commissioners by district.  You can stay up to date on the latest from the Board of Commissioners by visiting Washtenaw.org/BOC, or by following them on TwitterFacebook, and Instagram.

Release courtesy of Washtenaw County OCED

More Detroiters ‘very likely’ to get COVID-19 vaccine than 4 months ago, U-M survey finds

Contact: Lauren Slagter, 734-929-8027, lslag@umich.edu
Morgan Sherburne, morganls@umich.edu

DETROIT — Thirty-eight percent of Detroiters now say they are “very likely” to get the COVID-19 vaccine when it becomes available, up from 14% who gave that response in the fall of 2020, according to a new survey from the University of Michigan.

At the same time, the proportion of those very unlikely to vaccinate fell from 38% to 25%. Overall, Detroiters are split 50-50 on being likely versus unlikely to get the vaccine.

The representative survey of Detroit residents, conducted by U-M’s Detroit Metro Area Communities Study (DMACS), also offers valuable insights on what factors drive Detroiters’ decisions related to the COVID-19 vaccine.

For Detroit residents, the most important factors in determining whether to get vaccinated are their desire to keep themselves, their families, and their communities safe. The least important factors are whether other people they know are getting vaccinated and where the vaccine was made.

The greatest discrepancy between those willing and unwilling to vaccinate is related to how they view science on the effectiveness of the vaccine and the advice of doctors. While 94% of people likely to vaccinate say scientific findings on vaccine effectiveness are important to their decision, just 62% of those unlikely to vaccinate say it is important. Those likely to vaccinate are significantly more likely to think their doctors’ advice is important in deciding to vaccinate (80%) compared to those unlikely to vaccinate (54%).

“DMACS allows us to track how Detroiters’ attitudes about the COVID-19 vaccine have changed over time. Knowing what factors drive their decision making on whether to get the vaccine can inform public health efforts,” said Jeffrey Morenoff, one of the faculty research leads for DMACS, professor of public policy and sociology, and research professor at U-M’s Institute for Social Research.

DMACS has been surveying representative samples of Detroiters since 2016. This latest wave of the survey was open from Jan. 6 to March 5 and captures the views of 2,238 residents. To represent the views of the city as a whole, survey responses are weighted to match Detroits’ population demographics.

This wave of the survey was conducted in collaboration with, and supported by, Michigan CEAL: Communities Conquering COVID (C3), a transdisciplinary partnership of researchers and community leaders that aims to include marginalized communities in COVID-19 research and prevention in order to reduce health inequities across Michigan.

“The community-based participatory research approach of this project has allowed for community input at all stages of survey development, which strengthened the survey and increased the response rate in our community,” said Angela Reyes, executive director of Detroit Hispanic Development Corporation and Michigan CEAL steering committee member.

Disparities persist in who is likely to get the COVID-19 vaccine, according to the survey results:

  • Residents of color were significantly less likely to say they plan to get the vaccine than white residents;
  • On average, men are more likely to say they will get the vaccine than women;
  • Likelihood of vaccination increases significantly with education and income; and
  • Residents who say they have no trust in the U.S. government as a source for COVID-19 information are half as likely to plan to get the vaccine compared to those with some trust or high trust in the government.

“The DMACS team and the results of this survey have made important contributions to the mission of the Michigan C3 partnership to understand inequities among Black and Latinx residents in Detroit in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic. We are grateful for and inspired by the findings from this study, which will help inform our work moving forward to address these inequities,” said Barbara Israel, professor of public health and one of the multiple principal investigators for the Michigan CEAL Partnership, along with Erica Marsh, associate professor of obstetrics and gynecology.

DMACS surveys also reveal the impact of the pandemic on Detroit’s neighborhoods. Compared to findings from late 2019, residents now report lower neighborhood satisfaction, increased business closures, and stalled progress on priorities like public safety and beautification.

In late 2019, 20% of residents reported they were very satisfied with their neighborhood, compared to 14% of residents in early 2021. Over that same period, the proportion of residents who noticed more businesses closing than opening in their neighborhoods rose from 15% to 23%.

Roughly a year ago, 30% of residents reported that their neighborhoods were getting safer, but in 2021, only 15% said their neighborhoods are getting safer. Similarly, 39% of residents a year ago reported their neighborhood had grown more attractive, compared to 24% of residents today.

“While we have clear evidence of the toll the pandemic has had on health and economic well-being, the full toll of the pandemic on communities will continue to emerge over time,” said Lydia Wileden, a doctoral candidate at U-M who analyzed the DMACS COVID-19 survey data.

Other notable findings from the latest DMACS survey include:

  • Eighty-five percent of residents said in the past week they wore a mask all of the time when in public, 80% said they always wash their hands multiple times a day, and 71% said they are always maintaining a distance of at least 6 feet from non-household members.
  • In March, Detroit’s unemployment rate is approximately 26%, which is roughly equivalent to the unemployment rate estimated in October 2020 and more than twice the unemployment rate estimated a year ago, prior to the pandemic.
  • The proportion of residents who say the pandemic is creating major challenges accessing healthcare, having a place to live, and getting medication fell significantly between fall 2020 and spring 2021.

See the complete survey results.

More about Michigan CEAL

Michigan CEAL: Communities Conquering COVID (C3) is a transdisciplinary partnership of researchers and community leaders. Together using a community-based participatory research approach, C3 aims to identify and implement effective, community-driven strategies that enhance access and inclusion of marginalized communities in COVID-19 research and prevention to reduce health inequities across the state of Michigan. C3 focuses on alleviating the disproportionate burden of COVID-19 among low-income communities and communities of color in Wayne, Genesee, Kent, and Washtenaw counties. This project is supported by and reflects the goals of the Community Engagement Alliance (CEAL) Against COVID-19 Disparities initiative, funded by the National Institutes of Health, to conduct timely community-engaged COVID-19 research and outreach to reduce health inequities.

What the American Rescue Plan means for children experiencing homelessness

Q&A

Jennifer Erb-Downward

Jennifer Erb-Downward

The American Rescue Plan Act, the latest $1.9 trillion pandemic stimulus plan, includes $800 million to support children and youth experiencing homelessness.

Jennifer Erb-Downward, a senior research associate at the University of Michigan’s Poverty Solutions initiative who studies family homelessness, has been tracking the effect of the pandemic on people without stable housing. She discusses the potential impact of this aid.

What do we know about how the American Rescue Plan Act’s $800 million for youth and children experiencing homelessness will be spent?

The exact uses of this funding will vary some by state. Right now, we know this money will be used to support identification, enrollment, school participation, and wraparound services for children and youth experiencing homelessness. The money will be distributed through the McKinney-Vento Act, which funnels federal funding to states and then local school districts to support the education of children who are homeless. This is critical now because during the pandemic the identification of homeless students has decreased. When children who are homeless are not identified they do not receive the support they need to attend and succeed in school.

How does this compare to previous relief packages and typical funding for youth homelessness programs?

The funding in the COVID-19 relief package is a dramatic increase from what was available previously. Based on SchoolHouse Connections’ analysis of budget allocations, $800 million is more than Congress has appropriated for the education of children and youth experiencing homelessness over the last 10 years, combined.

This funding provides a real opportunity not only to identify children who are homeless and support them in school but to connect families with resources that could fundamentally end their homelessness. This is a transformational opportunity. In addition to McKinney-Vento funding, the latest COVID-19 relief package provides middle- to very low-income families with a child allowance of $250 – $300 per month per child. This round of stimulus checks treats children as equals with adults, which means a family of three will get a check for $4,200 — plus the child allowance payments — even if they had no earnings. The child allowance alone is estimated to decrease child poverty in the United States by 45%. If we can leverage the $800 million in McKinney-Vento funding to reach homeless families and children with these resources now, we can fundamentally change the future of hundreds of thousands of children’s lives.

You partnered with School House Connection, a national nonprofit working to overcome homelessness through education, to track how schools are responding to children experiencing homelessness during the pandemic. Can you share more about that project?

In the fall of 2020, SchoolHouse Connection conducted a national survey of homeless liaisons in schools on how identification of homeless students during the pandemic compared to the prior year and how the first round of COVID-19 funding was being used to support homeless students. Poverty Solutions worked with SchoolHouse Connection to analyze the survey data in order to find out what trends existed nationally and what we could learn about the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on homeless students.

What were some of the key findings from that survey of school district homeless liaisons

The biggest takeaway from the report was that in the midst of the devastating economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, liaisons were identifying fewer children who were homeless. Extrapolating out survey responses we found an estimated 420,000 fewer children and youth experiencing homelessness have been identified and enrolled by schools so far this school year. This means vulnerable children are not receiving the support they need to participate in school or the other basic resources that schools provide — from food to a safe place to be during the day. Lower identification was of particular concern to liaisons surveyed because many perceived that the needs in their community were actually greater as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and that homelessness had likely increased during the same time the number of homeless students identified by schools was going down.

The report also looked at the needs that liaisons were seeing among homeless students that they identified and how Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act funding was being used. The top concerns reported were lack of internet, shelter/housing, food, and child care. Unfortunately, liaisons indicated that federal education relief funds were not reaching homeless families, children, and youth. Only 18% of respondents indicated federal coronavirus relief education funding provided by the CARES Act was being used to meet the needs of students experiencing homelessness. This last finding, combined with the pandemic’s impact on homeless student identification, is what makes the $800 million of dedicated funding for homeless students so critical at this time. Without additional dedicated funding, we were not able to support students experiencing homelessness. Now we have an opportunity to turn that around.

What should educators and policymakers consider as they make use of this new $800 million in support for children and youth who are homeless?

For years we have not had the resources needed to identify and support all of the children in our schools experiencing homelessness. This funding provides us with a rare opportunity to not only increase the number of homeless children who can be reached but to potentially connect those children and their families to additional economic resources that could end their homelessness. McKinney-Vento dollars can help this to happen for the country’s most vulnerable families, but if we are going to be successful, we have to ensure the U.S. Department of Education guidance on how McKinney-Vento dollars can be used allows these connections to be made. This could be simple things like enabling liaisons to purchase prepaid debit cards, if that enables homeless families without bank accounts to access stimulus checks; or enabling districts to pay for hotel vouchers, if that might connect a family to longer-term housing resources. No one yet knows all of the details for how these programs will be rolled out. The most important thing is therefore to have the new McKinney-Vento dollars enable liaisons to be responsive to the needs of homeless families and children that they are identifying in their communities.

Related

Lost in the Masked Shuffle and Virtual Void: Children and youth experiencing homelessnes amidst the pandemic, report by SchoolHouse Connection and Poverty Solutions at U-M

Q&A: Coronavirus pandemic requires action to protect people who are homeless

U-M study on Detroit’s Make It Home Repair Program links home repairs, housing stability

Contact: Lauren Slagter, lslag@umich.edu, 734-929-8027

DETROIT – New research supported by Poverty Solutions at the University of Michigan shows a $1 million home repair grant program in Detroit has helped homeowners with low incomes complete major home repair projects that improve the quality and safety of their housing and increase their chances of remaining in their homes long term. 

These findings, outlined in a policy brief titled “Reinforcing Low-Income Homeownership Through Home Repair: Evaluation of the Make It Home Repair Program,” can help inform the city’s affordable housing strategy and guide efforts to make homeownership more stable for residents with low incomes. 

“Detroit faces an immense burden of housing disrepair that requires prompt and substantial investments from public and private institutions to protect the health and safety of residents. Home repair funds must be accessible to people with very low incomes, and prioritize long-term residents,” said Alexa Eisenberg, a doctoral candidate in U-M’s School of Public Health and Poverty Solutions research assistant, who led this research. Eisenberg co-authored the policy brief with master’s of public policy student Connor Wakayama and Patrick Cooney, assistant director of Poverty Solutions’ Detroit Partnership on Economic Mobility. 

Key findings from the research include: 

  • Program participants faced multiple, major home repair needs that impacted the safety and livability of their homes. Program-eligible homeowners reported an average of three major repair needs. The most common need related to roofing.
  • Small-sum repair grants addressed many of participants’ critical repair needs. A median of $6,000 per participant in monetary and in-kind grants enabled homeowners to address, on average, one of every two major repair needs.
  • Homeowners reported improvements to the safety of their housing and stability of their ownership as a result of the program. All participants said the program was “very important” or “important” for their household’s safety and ability to stay in the home; one-quarter reported that without the program, they would have had to leave the home permanently.
  • The program provided homeowners streamlined access to emergency repair funds that likely would have been unavailable otherwise, but gaps and challenges remain. All of the homeowners interviewed stated it would have been difficult to make repairs without the program; 75% were “not confident at all” they would have accessed another grant or loan for assistance. Still, ongoing repair needs and high housing cost burdens remain a challenge for some participants.

Detroit’s rental market is growing increasingly competitive, as homeownership rates dropped following the city’s mortgage and tax foreclosure crises. In 2019, housing costs were unaffordable for 73% of Detroit renters earning less than $35,000, which is about the median income in the city. 

Housing advocates and local officials have increasingly promoted homeownership as a way to increase housing stability for low-income households. Home values are low and many homes are available through foreclosure sales, which makes homeownership more feasible for families with low incomes in Detroit than in other housing markets. However, Detroit’s aging housing stock and cycles of disinvestment from speculative landlords have left many properties in substandard condition. A recent Poverty Solutions report conservatively estimates more than 24,000 houses in the city are moderately or severely inadequate.That report found the most common housing quality issues facing Metro Detroit residents include inadequate heating, exterior water leaks, signs of mice or rats, and weak foundations.

Since 2017, the City of Detroit and United Community Housing Coalition have implemented the Make It Home program, which has offered more than 1,100 occupants of taxed foreclosed houses the chance to purchase (or re-purchase) their homes through a 0% interest loan. An ongoing evaluation of the 2017 Make It Home pilot program found all of the home purchasers who were interviewed had repair needs. 

With $300,000  from Rocket Community Fund, UCHC launched the Make It Home Repair Program in 2019 to address the home repair needs of Make It Home participants; Rocket Community Fund has since contributed another $700,000 to the program. In 2019, 261 homeowners pursued assistance through the Make It Home Repair Program and UCHC worked with 62 homeowners to complete repairs. 

“As far as bills, I can basically handle it. You’ve got to pay those. But the repairs, trying to fix what you got, I can’t keep up with that,” said one of the 24 homeowners interviewed for the research.

In addition to interviewing homeowners, Poverty Solutions researchers reviewed intake data for 218 Make It Home homeowners who sought home repair assistance. 

The policy brief includes several recommendations to build on the successes of the Make It Home Repair Program:

  • The City of Detroit, nonprofit entities, and their philanthropic partners should prioritize occupied housing for home repair investments and couple programs that convey foreclosed homes to their occupants with adequate resources for major home repairs.
  • State and local governments should provide streamlined access to small-sum emergency grants for health and safety repairs.
  • The City of Detroit can restructure its 0% Interest Home Repair Loan Program to serve homeowners with very low incomes by offering deferred loans with no credit score requirement.
  • The City of Detroit should enforce its rental ordinance and strengthen tenant protections to improve conditions for renters and prevent further deterioration of Detroit’s affordable housing stock.
  • The federal government should invest substantially in home repair and new affordable housing, especially in cities harmed by a legacy of structural racism and discrimination in housing.

“The immense scale of Detroit’s unmet home repair needs is in large part a legacy of anti-Black structural racism and discrimination in the U.S. housing system, which was shaped by policy decisions of the federal government. This relegated Black households to older, disinvested housing and denied opportunities for homeownership, economic mobility, and wealth creation,” Cooney said. “Federal support for home repair in Detroit and other predominantly Black communities can serve as an insufficient but necessary measure to remediate some of the harm caused by a history of racial injustices.” 

Read the full policy brief.

Joe Biden’s economic relief plan: U-M experts can comment

Contact: Lauren Slagter, lslag@umich.edu, 734-929-8027
Jared Wadley, jwadley@umich.edu, 734-834-7719

EXPERTS ADVISORY

ANN ARBOR—President-elect Joe Biden outlined his proposal for a legislative package to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic, including economic relief measures, in a public address Thursday. University of Michigan faculty are available to comment on the potential impact of the proposal.

H. Luke Shaefer is the faculty director of Poverty Solutions and the Hermann and Amalie Kohn Professor of Social Policy at the Ford School of Public Policy. Shaefer’s research on how transforming the child tax credit into a child allowance would put a major dent in child poverty has been influential among federal policymakers seeking to expand the child tax credit in the way that President-elect Biden has proposed.

“Children have long been amongst the poorest in America,” Shaefer said. “Transforming the child tax credit into a universal child allowance available to families with no or very low earnings would recognize the challenges faced by poor and middle class families while reducing stigma and boosting political viability. Even during the uncertain times of the COVID-19 pandemic, the table is set to do something transformational for struggling families with children.”

Contact: lshaefer@umich.edu, 734-615-5997


Kristin Seefeldt, associate professor of social work and public policy and associate faculty director of Poverty Solutions, explores how economic and policy changes affect the everyday lives of economically vulnerable families. She conducts research on family financial coping strategies, particularly the use of debt as a way to make ends meet. Seefeldt can comment on stimulus checks and unemployment insurance.

Contact: 734-615-2113, kseef@umich.edu


Trina Shanks, professor of social work and faculty associate at the Institute for Social Research, has conducted research on the impact of poverty and wealth on child well-being; asset-building policy and practice across the life cycle; and community and economic development.

“Housing support is so important for renters and those that are in danger of losing their homes to mortgage and tax foreclosures,” she said. “Moratoriums are OK as a start, but making families economically whole and ensuring there are reasonable housing options for families must be a priority. We have relied on market forces so long that we seem to ignore the fact that there could be other approaches to add to the housing supply.”

Contact: 734-764-7411, trwilli@umich.edu

U-M scholars awarded $10M in Mellon Foundation grants to address racial justice, inequity

Contact: Lauren Love, 734-936-5190, lovelaur@umich.edu
Sydney Hawkins, 734-615-8765, sydhawk@umich.edu

ANN ARBOR — The University of Michigan has been awarded two $5 million grants through The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation’s Just Futures Initiative competition. The grants, led by professors Stephanie Fryberg and Earl Lewis, will fund projects that focus on addressing racial inequity.

Fryberg, a University Diversity and Social Transformation Professor and professor of psychology, and Lewis, the Thomas C. Holt Distinguished University Professor of History, Afroamerican and African Studies and Public Policy, and director of the Center for Social Solutions, will receive the funding to be used over the next three years.

The Mellon Foundation awarded more than $72 million in grants for 16 humanities, arts, and humanities-inflected social sciences projects across the country, the organization announced Jan. 13.

The foundation said the initiative was designed to support “visionary, unconventional, experimental and groundbreaking projects in order to address the long-existing fault lines of racism, inequality and injustice that tear at the fabric of democracy and civil society.”

“We’re proud to have these exceptional scholars on our campus,” Provost Susan Collins said. “These unprecedented awards recognize the outstanding humanities research that is happening at U-M, supported by a robust ecosystem, as well as the ingenuity of our scholars.

“They also reflect the excellent support provided by humanities leadership in the Provost’s Office, the U-M Humanities Collaboratory, the Humanities Institute, U-M Office of Research and the Office of University Development, as well as the College of Literature, Science, and the Arts, throughout the application process,” Collins said. “We are especially pleased that these projects will amplify and be supported by our broader campus-wide initiatives to enhance research and scholarship on anti-racism, equity and social justice.”

In collaboration with IllumiNative, the Center for Native American Youth at Aspen Institute and the Native Organizers Alliance, Fryberg will develop the Research for Indigenous Social Action and Equity Center, with the help of the Just Futures grant. The new center’s university collaborations include Harvard, Brown, and Stanford universities and the University of California, Berkeley.

The center’s mission will be to:

  • Conduct multidisciplinary humanist research centering the voices of Indigenous peoples and experiences.

  • Build, support, and sustain a multi-university pipeline of Indigenous scholar-activists.

  • Put research into action by integrating artists and activists who use the center’s research to promote and share accurate, expansive and empowering narratives of Indigenous people.

“Our aims are bold,” said Fryberg, who also is a faculty associate in the Research Center for Group Dynamics at the Institute for Social Research. “We want to reimagine and re-create how mainstream U.S. culture engages with narratives about Indigenous people. We are working toward a society in which all individuals not only learn about Indigenous people but also learn from Indigenous people.”

Research, including Fryberg’s, indicates that the United States’ ongoing system of power, which perpetuates settler colonialism, also undermines and negatively impacts the physical and mental health, education, income, employment and housing outcomes for Indigenous communities.

“Indigenous people and Indigenous issues are largely omitted from contemporary narratives and public consciousness,” Fryberg said. “This pervasive invisibility creates a void that is easily filled with harmful myths and misconceptions that draw on negative stereotypes and fail to portray Indigenous peoples’ contemporary lived experiences or full humanity.”

The first center of its kind, RISE will initially develop online, as part of efforts to de-densify U-M’s campus due to COVID-19. Eventually there will be a dedicated space on campus where Indigenous students and others can meet.

Lewis’ project, “Crafting Democratic Futures: Situating Colleges and Universities in Community-based Reparations Solutions,” will aim to build on institutional and community-based partnerships to explore localized reparations solutions for African American and some Native American communities. U-M’s Center for Social Solutions, Poverty Solutions initiative, and University Musical Society will partner on U-M’s role in the project.

The policies and initiatives that are produced, which Lewis intends to be related to workforce development, entrepreneurship, homeownership, education and infrastructure, will stem from the deep exploration of local histories, municipal support and meaningful community engagement.

“There has been a turn of events in the United States in the last four or five years,” said Lewis, who also is a professor of history and Afroamerican and African studies in LSA, and professor of public policy in the Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy. “Instead of waiting for the federal government to actually come up with a solution, communities themselves have begun to mount efforts to look at community-based solutions. We’ve moved from what was for the last 30-plus years deemed to be only a federal solution, to something that is grassroots and local.”

To carry out the pilot program, Lewis will collaborate with Carnegie Mellon and Emory universities, Rutgers University-Newark, Spelman College, WQED Multimedia, and the Council of Independent Colleges, whose member institutions include Concordia College in Moorhead, Minnesota; Connecticut College; Wesleyan College in Macon, Georgia; and Wofford College in Spartanburg, South Carolina.

Stephanie Fryberg

Earl Lewis

Release courtesy of Michigan News

New report outlines barriers to financial success for Detroiters

Jan. 22 virtual convening co-hosted by United Way for Southeastern Michigan and University of Michigan Poverty Solutions to discuss findings and solutions for families 

Contact: Jerome Espy of United Way for Southeastern Michigan, jerome.espy@liveunitedsem.org, (248) 417-9567 (mobile) 

DETROIT  For many low- and moderate-income Detroiters, the necessary ingredients for financial health and financial stability are out of reach. United Way for Southeastern Michigan is proud to partner with Poverty Solutions at the University of Michigan to release a study on the financial wellbeing of Detroit households. The study and workable solutions will be discussed during a virtual convening on Friday, Jan. 22, at 1:30 p.m. that is open to the public. 

This first of several online convenings will discuss historic and systemic barriers Detroit families face to achieving financial wellbeing, a critical ingredient to creating and maintaining stable households. 

The studyThe Financial Well-Being of Detroit Residents: What Do We Know?, builds on United Way’s ALICE reportUnited Way’s ALICE report shows that 43% of families statewide and more than 74% of Detroit families struggle to meet their basic needs. The new report, written by researchers at University of Michigan’s Poverty Solutions, delves in-depth to identify the underlying reasons it is so difficult for the average Detroiter to consistently make ends meet – more so than in suburban towns and peer cities.   

“It’s safe to say that these are turbulent times for all of us, but some are more impacted than others. The ongoing pandemic has shone a light on an issue that has existed for far too long – the financial and opportunity gaps that exist for the most vulnerable, particularly in Black and Brown populations,” said Dr. Darienne Hudson, president and CEO, United Way for Southeastern Michigan. “Thanks to this new research by the University of Michigan, we now can better understand the barriers those in our most challenged communities face every day and begin working toward lasting solutions.”  

The report synthesizes a rich array of previously-published research from a range of sources together with original research from University of Michigan.  Key findings from the report include: 

  • One-half of Detroit residents are either financially insecure (32%) or in financial trouble (24%).  
  • Tens of thousands of Detroiters struggle to earn sufficient and steady incomethey also confront a set of disproportionately high basic expenses, including property taxes, auto insurance, and utilities. 
  • The combination of low and volatile incomes and disproportionately excessive costs makes it especially difficult for Detroit households to consistently maintain positive cash flow. In turn, this makes it challenging to build savings, protect assets, or maintain access to a bank account.  
  • Nearly one-third of residents with incomes below $30,000 said they are saving less following the COVID-19 outbreak, but it is encouraging that 40% of residents earning below $30,000 said they are saving more due to the pandemic. 
  • Detroit residents filed at least 43,020 consumer bankruptcy cases in court between 2008 and 2015. 
  • 66% of Detroiters have some form of debt in collections, including credit card debt, medical debt, and government fines and fees, according to a 2016 Urban Institute report. 
  • Limited disposable income makes it difficult for many Detroit households to build savings for short-term needs, long-term goals, or for an emergency like COVID-19. 

Afton_Branche

Afton Branche-Wilson

“Our report illustrates the set of structural challenges Detroiters confront every day when seeking steady financial footing, such as high utility bills and unpredictable wages,” said Afton Branche-Wilson of Poverty Solutions at the University of Michigan and the report’s lead author. “We also highlight practical and urgent steps that policymakers and practitioners can take to help residents gain control over their finances, recover from financial setbacks, and build lasting financial security.” 

The virtual convening on Friday, Jan. 22, at 1:30 p.m. will present key findings from the report and kick off a series of community conversations around opportunities for action to address the underlying conditions which create financial instability and hardship for so many Detroiters. 

To register for the convening, visit: https://unitedwaysem.org/event/fwb-detroit/   

For more information about United Way for Southeastern Michigan and their commitment to serving the community or to make a donation, please visit: UnitedWaySEM.org.   

For more information about United Way’s ALICE report, please visit: https://www.uwmich.org/alice 

For more information about University of Michigan’s Poverty Solutions, please visit: https://poverty.umich.edu/  

ABOUT UNITED WAY FOR SOUTHEASTERN MICHIGAN    

United Way for Southeastern Michigan, a member of the United Way Worldwide network and an independently governed 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, works to help households become stable and ensure children have the support they need to thrive. For more than 100 years, United Way has been a leader in creating positive, measurable, and sustainable change in communities throughout southeast Michigan. United Way works in partnership with donors, agencies, corporate and municipal partners to help families meet their basic needs of housing, food, health care and family finances, and ensure children start school ready to learn and graduate ready for life. To give, advocate, volunteer or learn more, visit UnitedWaySEM.org.  

ABOUT UNIVERSITY OF MICHIGANS POVERTY SOLUTIONS 

 Poverty Solutions is a university-wide initiative that aims to prevent and alleviate poverty through action-based research that informs policymakers, community organizations, government entities, and practitioners about what works in confronting poverty. 

Release courtesy of United Way for Southeastern Michigan.

U-M partners with Washtenaw County Prosecutor Eli Savit on ‘Prosecutor Transparency Project’

Data-driven project to focus on uncovering potential inequities within prosecutorial system

Contact: Shruti Lakshmanan, Washtenaw County Office of the Prosecuting Attorney Transition Manager, press@eli2020.com, 734-697-3933

ANN ARBOR – Washtenaw County Prosecutor Eli Savit today announced that his office will launch the “Prosecutor Transparency Project” in partnership with the ACLU of Michigan and the University of Michigan Law School. The aim of the project is to uncover potential racial inequities through the collection and analysis of data regarding decisions made by the prosecutor’s office, including who is charged with a crime, the nature of the charge, the race of the individual charged, and other crucial information such as plea-bargaining conduct. The results of the project — the first of its kind to be conducted in Michigan — will be shared with the public.

“I’m thrilled to have this incredible partnership in place to drill down into the data in an effort to identify and eliminate racial inequities in the prosecutor’s office,” Savit said. “We know systemic racism exists in all facets of society, and the prosecutor’s office is no exception. This partnership will go a long way towards helping inform how we make decisions and ensuring that justice is dispensed in an unbiased manner moving forward. With nationally-renowned experts leading our work, Washtenaw County residents will have confidence that our prosecutor’s office is treating everyone fairly and evenhandedly.”

The audit will be done by independent researchers at the University of Michigan and funded by the ACLU and Oregon-based Vital Projects Fund, in addition to U-M. The announcement of the partnership fulfills one of Savit’s major campaign promises: to partner with independent, third-party researchers to identify and eliminate racially disparate treatment in the criminal-justice system. No taxpayer funds will be spent on the project.

The announcement also fulfills a recommendation from Citizens for Racial Equity in Washtenaw (CREW). In August 2020, CREW released a report indicating that Black residents of Washtenaw County were far more likely to be charged with criminal offenses than white residents. One of CREW’s primary recommendations was for further, in-depth study of racially disparate treatment.

“CREW is elated by this partnership and by our new prosecutor’s commitment to address racial inequity head-on,” said Alma Wheeler Smith, who serves as co-chair of CREW and was formerly a state senator and chair of the Michigan Civil Rights Commission. “The CREW report scratched the surface of deep racial injustice in our criminal system, and further study is sorely needed. We are confident that the Washtenaw County prosecutor’s model can be replicated across the state and applaud Eli Savit’s leadership.”

The project will proceed in three parts. First, researchers will quantify racial disparities in decisions made by the prosecutor’s office. Second, they will review cases with similar fact patterns for white people and people of color to determine how the outcomes of those cases may reflect racial inequities. Finally, in consultation with researchers, the prosecutor’s office will identify metrics to track to ensure equitable treatment. These metrics will be made public on the prosecutor’s website.

“Prosecutors are the most powerful actors in the criminal legal system and must be held accountable through transparency in their decision making,” said Shelli Weisberg, ACLU of Michigan political director. “The ACLU is deeply committed to dismantling racism in our criminal legal system and ending mass incarceration in Michigan’s criminal legal system, and we are confident that funding the ‘Prosecutor Transparency Project’ will go a long way to accomplishing this goal and hope to develop similar partnerships around the state with other prosecutors.”

The research team will be led by Professor J.J. Prescott at the University of Michigan Law School, one of the nation’s top empirical criminal justice scholars. Recently, Prescott’s work was instrumental in successfully moving a far-reaching package of expungement bills through the Michigan Legislature.

“It’s exceedingly rare — if not unheard of — for prosecutors to take an unflinching, unbiased look at racial bias in our system,” Prescott said. “I’m excited that this work is starting in Washtenaw County, and I’m hopeful that this project can serve as a national model for prosecutors across the nation.”

Data scientist and University of Michigan Law School Research Scholar Grady Bridges will be primarily responsible for the research project. Bridges has years of experience collecting and analyzing Michigan criminal justice data. He served as data administrator for Michigan’s Criminal Justice Policy Commission and was the data consultant for the CREW report.

Poverty Solutions, a university-wide initiative that aims to prevent and alleviate poverty through action-based research at the University of Michigan, will provide technical expertise and will lead the creation of a transparent, publicly accessible data dashboard for the prosecutor’s office. Trevor Bechtel — who manages student engagement at Poverty Solutions and has led multiple projects designed to increase access to information—will spearhead those efforts.

Work on the project will begin immediately. The results of the research project will be shared publicly as they are completed.

Release courtesy of the Washtenaw County Prosecutor’s Office.

Federal pandemic assistance set to expire at end of 2020: U-M experts available

Contact: Lauren Slagter, 734-929-8027, lslag@umich.edu
Jared Wadley, 734-936-7819, jwadley@umich.edu

EXPERTS ADVISORY

ANN ARBOR—Congress has not taken action to extend or replace the federal unemployment pandemic assistance, which expires at year’s end. The University of Michigan has experts available to discuss how the inaction could devastate millions of households, especially those living in poverty.

H. Luke Shaefer is the director of Poverty Solutions, the Hermann and Amalie Kohn Professor of Social Justice and Social Policy, and associate dean for research and policy engagement at the Ford School of Public Policy. He is an expert on unemployment insurance, material hardship, food insecurity and housing instability.

“The safety net provisions included in the CARES Act were as effective as anything we’ve ever done, but these provisions are either in the rearview mirror or set to expire,” he said. “It is time for Congress to do more, and now they have a playbook on how to effectively stem hardship during the greatest economic crisis since the Great Depression.”

Contact: lshaefer@umich.edu


Roshanak Mehdipanah, assistant professor of health behavior and health education at the School of Public Health, is an expert on housing instability and health.

“The national moratorium on evictions ends at the end of this month,” she said. “Unless we see more federal intervention, 2021 will start with mass evictions across the country, in the middle of winter and a pandemic. Unfortunately, the health impacts of mass evictions would be irreversible and felt for many decades to come.”

Contact: rmehdipa@umich.edu


Margaret Dewar, professor emerita of urban and regional planning at the Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning, is an expert on evictions and property tax foreclosure.

Contact: medewar@umich.edu


William Elliott III, professor at the School of Social Work and director of the Joint Doctoral Program in Social Work and Social Science, is an expert on how the pandemic is affecting wealth inequality.

Contact: willelli@umich.edu

Mentorship that meets the moment: SummerWorks shares lessons learned in mentoring guide

Click on the image to open the SummerWorks Mentoring Guide.

Washtenaw County’s SummerWorks team was gearing up for their fifth year of the summer youth employment program when the COVID-19 pandemic changed everything. The central feature of the program  — a 10-week in-person job placement for young adults aged 16-24  — was no longer possible due to health concerns that led to business closures and restrictions on in-person gatherings. 

In response, Poverty Solutions at the University of Michigan, in partnership with Michigan Works! Southeast and the Washtenaw County Office of Community and Economic Development, translated the jobs program to a virtual format to continue offering critical opportunities during a difficult time. Youth participants engaged in virtual professional development webinars, attended job shadow events, and created a professional portfolio to help them land their next job or internship. 

SummerWorks also piloted a new program that paired youth with two mentors — career professionals — based on mutual interests, career field, and educational background. Participants met with their mentors at least once per week over an eight-week period throughout the summer. Eighty-three mentors participated in the pilot program and represented a broad range of industries and careers. 

SummerWorks staff compiled the resources they used to develop the mentoring program in a SummerWorks Mentoring Guide, which covers topics like roles and responsibilities of mentors and mentees, stages of the mentoring relationship, best practices for mentorship, practicing cultural humility, principles of positive youth development, conversation tips, potential meeting topics, and additional activities.

Jordan Greene, SummerWorks project manager

In this Q&A, SummerWorks Project Manager Jordan Greene shares more about how the mentoring program came together and lessons learned from the pivot to virtual programming in 2020. 

Before diving in to how SummerWorks changed in 2020, can you tell us more about the original concept behind the summer youth employment program? 

Greene: Where you live matters for employment opportunities, access to education and training, and economic mobility. Washtenaw County is no exception, where a history of housing segregation created a landscape of inequity in access to opportunity. Structural racism disproportionately impacts communities of color in Washtenaw County, and as a result, young people often find it difficult to access training and resources that help prepare them for postsecondary education and the workforce. SummerWorks aims to address some of these inequities by connecting local young adults to resources for building professional networks, exploring career opportunities, and developing essential job and leadership skills.

Is there anything that didn’t go as expected as you launched the mentorship program this year, and how did you adapt? 

Greene: We realized very quickly that both our mentors and young people would benefit from additional resources and support regarding how to structure their meetings and get the most out of their mentoring relationship. However, in our search for additional resources, we learned that there is a lack of comprehensive training and information sources for mentorship and best practices for programming. In response, our team compiled this mentoring guide in hopes that it will be beneficial to other communities and programs hoping to engage in mentorship. Moving forward, we plan to continue building out these resources for young people in our program to help them set learning goals, identify questions to ask a mentor, and exercise agency in the mentoring relationship. 

What was the most surprising part of the pivot to virtual programming? 

Greene: I was most surprised, and inspired, by the willingness from both our Washtenaw County and U-M communities to engage with the SummerWorks program in new ways. We received an overwhelming amount of interest in our mentoring program from professionals who represented so many different career and educational backgrounds. COVID-19 has created challenging times for folks, and I was so appreciative of our mentors’ willingness to reach out, connect with young people, and share their expertise.

Can you share an example that illustrates the impact of the program? 

Greene: Whenever I think about this, one young person comes to mind. When I met them during their first year in the program, they were a shy high school student who never spoke up because they felt like they didn’t have anything meaningful or important to share. Three years later, that young person shared their story at our end-of-program celebration event in front of over 200 people. They shared a quote with me that captures why mentorship matters: 

“For three years I have been proud to be in this program. It taught me something about life and I’m blessed to have been around great people. I met staff who are now great friends and mentors who care about me and my life. They have been helping me since day one when I joined the program. I also had great supervisors who guided me through everything at work. I gained confidence and help that got me to college, something I never thought I would do. I will never forget this job, my first job that I ever had.

How do you anticipate the lessons learned this year will shape the future of SummerWorks?  

Greene: Last summer really helped us understand that facilitating close, supportive relationships with youth through our programming is the most important thing we do. Personally, I believe that there is power in telling our stories. Forming connections with trusted mentors who can coach us, offer resources, share their personal experiences, and connect us to resources is extremely beneficial to our development and exploration of future opportunities. “You can’t be what you can’t see” is a quote that really resonates with me, and I think that SummerWorks embodies that by promoting really immersive career exploration opportunities. I’m excited to continue carrying this philosophy forward with how we design our programming, think about expansion, and consider ways to engage youth long after the summer ends. 

For more information, visit the SummerWorks website or contact Jordan Greene at joleighp@umich.edu.

Download the SummerWorks Mentoring Guide (PDF).