Skip to main content
U-M Poverty Solutions Logo U-M Poverty Solutions Logo


Network Structures: Buildings, Publics, and the Internet

The project: This project sought to develop strategies for converting abandoned school buildings in Detroit into anchor institutions that provide internet access through mesh networks. Detroit has one of the lowest rates of internet connectivity in the U.S., which is exacerbated by the economic precarity of many Detroiters, the high cost of residential internet access, uneven broadband service provision throughout the city, and low population density in some neighborhoods. Mesh networks rely on multiple points of internet connectivity through distributed fields of routers. These grassroots, community-based internet networks have the potential to enable further social networks within a given community.

The process: Faculty from U-M’s Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning and the Digital Studies Institute partnered with the City of Detroit’s digital inclusion director and Tri-Unity Community Development Corporation to conduct a feasibility study exploring best practices for the development of mesh networks, strategies for repurposing vacated institutions in Detroit neighborhoods, and financial modeling to support such strategies.

Results: Tri-Unity Community Development suggested the researchers focus on two abandoned schools in the Pride Area Community: Oakman Elementary Orthopedic School and George Parker Elementary School. The research team interviewed at least 20 members of the community via Zoom to gain an understanding of their needs and levels of access to digital infrastructure. They used that information to develop a series of design sketches that adapt spaces at Oakman and Parker schools and convert a collection of vacant lots between the two schools into affordable housing. 

See the prototypes and learn more about this ongoing research.  

Cyrus Peñarroyo, U-M Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning

McLain Clutter, U-M Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning

Sarah Murray, U-M College of Literature, Science, and the Arts

Joshua Edmonds, City of Detroit director of digital inclusion

David Underwood, director of Tri-Unity Community Development Corporation

Beyond Rhetoric: Confronting and Combating Racism in Genesee County, Michigan

On June 10, 2020, the Genesee County Board of Commissioners approved a resolution declaring racism a public health crisis. This research project aims to ensure this resolution has a meaningful impact on the health and well-being of residents of color, extending beyond mere rhetoric. To accomplish that, researchers will:

  • Develop a decision-making Community Action Council with about 20 members responsible for developing an evidence-based strategic plan to eliminate racist policies and practices impacting the health and well-being of Genesee County residents of color;
  • Develop and formalize a strategic plan for eliminating racist policies and practices that impact the health and well-being of residents of color in Genesee County, with the Community Action Council’s guidance and opportunity for public input at virtual townhall meetings and targeted correspondence with stakeholders; and
  • develop a website with anti-racist policies and practices resources to assist other local, state, and national organizations to assess their current policies and practices as well as adopt anti-racist policies and practices that impact the health and well-being of people of color.

Lisa M. Lapeyrouse, associate professor, Department of Public Health and Health Sciences, University of Michigan – Flint

Detroit River Story Lab

The project: The Detroit River Story Lab sought to partner with local organizations in their ongoing efforts to strengthen the narrative infrastructure of the Detroit River corridor in order to reconnect communities with the river and its stories. The term “narrative infrastructure,” as used by the story lab, refers to the fabric of shared stories that binds a given community together. Investing in a community’s narrative infrastructure entails elevating and celebrating community stories – especially those traditionally marginalized – and supporting projects that incorporate those stories into the public self-image of a place.

The process: The story lab worked with regional organizations to co-produce and disseminate historically nuanced, contextually aware, and culturally rooted stories recasting the role of the Detroit River in the lives of adjacent communities from an anti-racist perspective and documenting its history as part of the Underground Railroad.

Results: As of December 2021, the Detroit River Story Lab has:

  • Piloted a three-week curricular module for middle schools in Michigan and Ontario that covers the regional history of the Underground Railroad and local Black vigilance committees;
  • Offered a pair of river-themed experiential learning programs — including sailing on a schooner on the Detroit River and a wooden boat building workshop on Belle Isle — to introduce students to new potential career pathways; 
  • Partnered with the Detroit Historical Society to support an ongoing, multi-year effort to retell the story of Belle Isle and the surrounding waterways from Black and Indigenous perspectives; 
  • Partnered with a half-dozen nonprofits and municipal agencies working on signage projects for river-facing parks and greenways, which may include “story stations” accessible by QR code that highlight site-specific resources;
  • Funded internships that placed graduate students with extensive research and writing experience in nonprofit news organizations, such as BridgeDetroit, Planet Detroit, and Detroit Public Television, to assist staff in the coverage of river-related stories;
  • Supported the Detroit River Project in its efforts to build Congressional and coalition support for the designation of the Detroit River as a UNESCO World Heritage Site; and
  • Submitted an article on the research findings to the Journal of Great Lakes Research.

David Porter, professor, English Department, University of Michigan


Using Police Body Camera Footage to Experimentally Assess the Effects of Routine Police Encounters for Community Trust and Community Health

Racial inequities in American policing are at the forefront of public consciousness in 2020. This research project will evaluate the physiological stress Black and white people experience during routine traffic stops, offering insights on the relationship between policing and minority health. Study participants will listen to audio recordings of actual traffic stops, as recorded by police body cameras; half of the recordings will be randomly-selected traffic stops involving Black drivers and half will be randomly-selected traffic stops involving white drivers. Researchers will monitor study participants’ perceptions and physiological reactions to these encounters using galvanic skin conductance (GSR) and electrocardiography (EKG). The study will offer insights into disparate police treatment of white and Black drivers as well as disparate impact of these interactions on white and Black people. By understanding the role of officer communication and the divergent ways people experience these routine police encounters, we can better intervene on these institutional interactions and train officers in communicating during routine interactions.

Nicholas Camp, assistant professor, Organizational Studies, University of Michigan

Democracy’s Denominator: How Citizenship-based Redistricting Impacts Racial Minority Voters

The project: For the past half century, congressional and state legislative districts in the U.S. have been drawn to equalize the total population of each district. However, legislators in several states with Republican-controlled legislatures have hinted at potentially changing the unit of apportionment to eligible citizen voters, and the Trump administration took steps to facilitate that switch. Under this new approach, called citizen voting-age population (CVAP) equalization, legislative and congressional districts would be designed to equalize the number of adult citizens, rather than total population. This project ran simulations for 10 states to determine how equalizing voting districts based on CVAP would impact minority representation and partisan preference.

The process: Researchers used randomized redistricting to create two sets of legislative district maps that illustrate what would happen if districts’ CVAPs rather than their total populations were equalized. Researchers focused on 10 states with below-average ratios of CVAP to total population (signifying relatively large populations of non-citizens and residents who are not of voting age). These states — Arizona, California, Georgia, Idaho, Illinois, Nevada, Florida, New York, Texas, and Utah  — are the places where switching from equal-total-population to equal-CVAP districts could make the biggest difference.

Results: The redistricting simulations found minority representation would likely decline significantly in Arizona, Florida, New York, and Texas. If these states changed their unit of apportionment from total population to CVAP, their shares of minority opportunity districts could be expected to fall by six or more percentage points. On the other hand, the partisan impact of a different apportionment base would probably be more muted. Overall, Republicans would win more seats in redistricting plans that equalized districts’ CVAPs — but only slightly more seats, generally not enough to disturb the partisan balance of power. This conclusion holds, moreover, whether districts are drawn by a nonpartisan mapmaker or a gerrymanderer and whether one or many electoral environments are analyzed.

Jowei Chen, associate professor, Department of Political Science, University of Michigan


Virulent Hate: Anti-Asian Racism and Resistance during the COVID-19 Pandemic

The projectIn the U.S., the first half of 2020 saw a sharp rise in hate incidents targeting Asian Americans, who have been scapegoated for the novel coronavirus (COVID-19). This project – which is a collaboration with the Stop AAPI Hate Reporting Center, Bridging Divides Initiative at Princeton University, and the Asian American Foundation – aims to improve public understanding of contemporary anti-Asian racism and resistance.

The process: To study the surge in anti-Asian hate incidents in the United States during the COVID-19 pandemic, a team of student researchers at the University of Michigan and universities across the country gathered over 4,000 news articles in 2020 to identify and tag hundreds of incidents of anti-Asian racism and Asian American activism. The researchers have now started collecting and analyzing news articles about anti-Asian racism for 2021.

In response to requests from community partners, the researchers also conducted an analysis of politicians’ rhetoric about Asian Americans during the 2020 general election season, created a comprehensive and searchable database of Asian American community organizations in the United States, and conducted an analysis of religious communities’ statements on anti-Asian racism.

ResultsThe Virulent Hate Project created a website ( to share its findings, including a series of reports, an interactive map showing the location of racist incidents, and a summary of trends in harassment. 

Melissa Borja, assistant professor in the Department of American Culture and core faculty in the Asian/Pacific Islander American Studies Program, University of Michigan


Washtenaw County Prosecutor’s Office: Racial Equity Study and Criminal Justice Dashboard

Poverty Solutions is partnering with the Washtenaw County Prosecutor’s Office and others on a data-driven project focused on uncovering potential inequities within the prosecutorial system and increasing the transparency and accountability of the system generally. The “Prosecutor Transparency Project” in partnership with the ACLU of Michigan and the University of Michigan Law School has two components: a racial equity study and a criminal justice dashboard. The study aims 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 this project — the first of its kind to be conducted in Michigan — will be shared with the public. Poverty Solutions will take the lead in building a dashboard, which will report metrics from the Prosecutor’s Office as well as other participating agencies.

JJ Prescott, University of Michigan Law School
Trevor Bechtel, Poverty Solutions at the University of Michigan
Grady Bridges, University of Michigan Law School
Eli Savit, Washtenaw County Prosecutor

Valuing the Costs and Benefits of Free Mobile Care for Pregnant Mothers and Infants

Access to prenatal and newborn care are critical components to improve birth outcomes and reduce infant deaths. Despite Medicaid expansion, many families in Michigan lack health insurance and access to care. Such families often face overwhelming barriers to care including limited or no transportation, poverty, childcare, competing demands, and work
schedules. Since 2016, the Luke Clinic in Detroit has provided twice-monthly free care for prenatal and postpartum mothers and their infants through one year of life.

In 2020 the Luke Clinic piloted the Mobile Antenatal Testing Unit (MATU), providing community/home-based care to families with high-risk pregnancies and social barriers to care. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit the MATU became a bridge to care for many families for whom it is unsafe to attend clinic appointments or who need hands-on testing in combination with virtual medical care. This project supports the evaluation of the MATU project to provide the basis for future improvements and quality care.

Katherine Gold, U-M Departments of Family Medicine and Obstetrics & Gynecology

MIHP for All: Exploring the Impact of Universal Maternal and Infant Home Visiting on Health Outcomes

The project: This project supports the Youth Policy Lab, along with researchers at Michigan Medicine and staff from Michigan Medicine’s Maternal Infant Health Program (MIHP), to jointly explore a set of research and policy questions designed to help understand ways to improve maternal and infant health outcomes in Michigan. The research investigates the impact of offering home visiting universally to all women, regardless of insurance status, on participation rates and the health outcomes of mothers and babies. Prior research suggests that offering social services universally can reduce stigma, increase program awareness and have a substantial impact on participation rates.

The process: Researchers fielded a survey of prenatal patients to understand their awareness and perceptions of home visiting and explored avenues for piloting a universal home visit program.

Results: Key findings from the survey included:

  • Stigma does not appear to be a major barrier to home visiting participation.
  • Awareness of home visiting programs is low and is lowest among the Medicaid population who are mostly likely to be eligible for home visiting services.
  • Many families do not want a home visitor to come into their home. This may, in part, be related to heightened anxiety due to COVID-19, but a survey conducted in a sample of Medicaid eligible families in Southeast Michigan pre-COVID revealed similar attitudes, so this is an area to focus on moving forward.
  • Families were open to virtual visits. Eighty-nine percent of respondents expressed willingness to participate in home visiting with at least some virtual component.

Robin Jacob, Institute for Social Research


Benefits Coach Pilot

The project: There are two interrelated challenges facing health and human services professionals. First, a relatively large percentage of poor families do not receive the public benefits for which they qualify. Second, young children associated with substantiated allegations of neglect are at a high risk for experiencing a subsequent substantiated incident of neglect. These problems are interrelated in that family poverty (or economic instability) and child neglect are highly correlated.

The process: To help address these two problems, we developed and rigorously evaluated the use of a benefits coach to simultaneously (1) increase the take-up rate of public benefits and (2) decrease the risk of repeat neglect. The benefits coaches worked directly with child welfare-involved families and focus specifically on getting families through the eligibility process – and helping them secure the benefits that will improve their family’s economic well-being. The current project represents a collaboration between Michigan’s Children’s Services Agency, Poverty Solutions, and the Child and Adolescent Data Lab. The benefits coach pilot is located in Detroit’s south central field office.

Results: Sixty families in Wayne County eventually engaged with the benefits coach and completed an application for benefits. Sixty-eight percent of them were approved for at least one program, and 32% were denied for their entire application. Primary denial reasons include lack of submitting documentation requested from the assigned benefits worker, lack of attending scheduled phone interview, income exceeding threshold, and in cases of denial related to cash assistance, lack of completing a questionnaire and attending mandatory appointments. 

Researchers also matched client referral data with MDHHS records on child safety (new child maltreatment allegations and new substantiated child maltreatment records). The families that applied and were approved for benefits were less likely to be associated with a new report of maltreatment (10%) as compared to families that were denied benefits (40%) or were not interested in help with benefits (19%). Similar patterns emerged for subsequent substantiated allegations: families that applied and were approved for benefits were less likely to be associated with a new substantiated report of maltreatment (0%) as compared to families that were denied benefits (20%) or were not interested in help with benefits (5%).

Joseph Ryan, University of Michigan School of Social Work