For the first time in the Detroit conferences’ existence, there is an acknowledgement amongst Financial Institutions Community Development Conference (FICON) members that Detroit is moving forward with urban redevelopment. While this is certainly encouraging news, there is a big concern about prioritizing the interests, visions, skills and concerns of Detroit’s existing residents to ensure those residents have not only a voice, but power at the table when Detroit’s future is being discussed. Through an entire day of networking, keynotes and panels, attendees heard from expert practitioners in community development, updates from city and county government, discussions on development concerns and a keynote from Dawn Phillips, Program Co-Director of Just Cause from the Bay Area on “Development without Displacement”.
Following welcoming remarks from Sarida Scott-Montgomery, Executive Director of Community Development Advocates of Detroit (CDAD) and Maggie DeSantis, President/CEO of Eastside Community Network who was MC, attendees heard from Victoria Kovari, General Manager from the Mayors’ office newly created Department of Neighborhoods. This department creates a bridge between city government and the residents. District Managers around the city are embedded in the neighborhoods and well connected with city leaders. Following a list of accomplishments since it began operating in 2014, attendees were directed to this new Department for local residents’ voices to be heard at city hall.
The audience also received an update from Jelani Karamoko, newly hired Executive Director for the Wayne County Land Bank Authority (WCLBA). With no staff, a newly created board, no website and no present properties in its control, it’s going to take some time for the WCLBA to become truly functional. With that being said, the WCLBA has rolled out two programs to get tax forfeited, blighted properties back into the community: Community Partnership Program and Deed In Escrow Program. The first program intends to transfer foreclosed and abandoned properties to non-profits for rehab. The Deed in Escrow program is for individuals to purchase homes from WCLBA for $1 and the county holds the deed in escrow until the home is rehabbed to a certain standard. The starting inventory for both programs will be unsold homes from WCLBA auctions.
OTHERS DESCRIBE THEIR EFFORTS TO ASSIST WITH COMMUNITY DEVELOPMENT
Three separate panels provided ample opportunity for attendees to learn of all the great community development support currently happening in the city. The first panel moderated by Kathy Wendler, President of Southwest Detroit Business Association, discussed entrepreneurship, community revitalization, small business financing and start-up capital from minorities, featured Eric Peoples from ProsperUS, Hector Hernandez, Executive Director of Southwest Economic Solutions, Ivy Simmons, Executive Vice President & Chief of Staff from the Michigan Black Chamber and Ebrahim Varachia of Patronicity. This panel discussed current community resources available for entrepreneurs and neighborhood residents to tap into and grow their communities and jobs.
A second panel featured updates from the Michigan State Housing Development Authority (MSHDA), Detroit Future City and the Detroit Land Bank Authority (DLBA). Moderated by Jill Ferrari, President of Michigan Community Resources, Victoria Olivier, Deputy Director of Detroit Future Cities Neighborhoods, described the neighborhood lot program and implementation of a workbook to help residents be successful. Rod Liggons from DLBA described their efforts to get lots and sidelots back into the community and the basics of those programs. Pauline Millichamp and Van Adams described the Pre Development Loan Program, Technical Assistance resources to multi-family developers and some information on how the Low Income Housing Tax Credit (LIHTC) program operates to rebuild communities from the MSHDA standpoint.
The third and final panel, moderated by Aaron Handelsman of Detroit People’s Platform, discussed community land trust developments in the city of Detroit and a community benefits agreement. The panel featured Reverend Joan Ross, President of North End Woodward Community Coalition, Mildred Robbins-Hunt, President of West Grand Boulevard Collaborative/Equitable Detroit and Mr. Handelsman.
In the keynote address, Dawn Phillips, Program Director for Causa Justa: Just Cause (CJJC) in the Bay Area described some of her experiences of organizing a membership based organization focused on community development, housing and immigration issues. Some of the findings were discussed with the audience on the CJJC report “Development Without Displacement: Resisting Gentrification in the Bay Area.” What Detroit is dealing with right now happens all over America when development occurs without all stakeholders having a seat at the table and conference attendees intend to avoid many of the Detroit development mistakes of the past. Ms. Phillips’ remarks brought home the point that true community development cannot take place without current residents’ voices being heard.
A poignant video entitled “Streets of Dreams-Development Without Displacement In Communities of Color” brought another viewpoint to the conversation on how the working class needs to be involved in community decision-making for community development to work. Peter Hammer, Director of the Daman Keith Civil Rights Center also spoke on the Community Benefits Ordinance of putting people at the center of community development. The theme of inclusion for substantive community development was echoed throughout the day by a number of speakers, leaders, community developers and organizations.
While there certainly is a renewed sense of optimism that the pace of development will speed up now that Detroit has emerged from bankruptcy, more focus is taking place on how development projects are either helping or hindering current residents within those particular communities where development projects are planned or occurring. This “community development” voice must be heard in order for all current and future residents of the City of Detroit to build the dream of a sustainable, inclusive, walkable, safe, vibrant community for all.
ROBERT E. MATTLER is Managing Director for PACE-Equity in Michigan. He speaks, writes and reports about emerging sustainable real estate and development issues in Michigan and elsewhere. Bob is a senior correspondent for www.greeningdetroit.com. For more information, contact Bob at PACE-Equity (248) 762-4370; or by e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.