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City of Detroit to plant 10,000 trees over next three years

One of our favorite stories of the last couple years is on the history of trees in Detroit. It's a great example of the ways decisions made hundreds of years ago, about things as seemingly mundane as tree planting, can have a direct impact on the present landscape of our city. 

Because trees take years to mature and their roots can wreak havoc on man-made infrastructure, it's important to plant (and plan) now. 

The city of Detroit, which recently announced the planting of 10,000 trees over the next three years, is doing just that. Called the "10,000 Up" initiative, the goal is to replace the thousands of trees lost over the years to disease, the emerald ash bore, or other causes. 

"Detroit used to be known as a city of trees, but we have lost so many over the past several decades to various causes," said general services department director, Brad Dick, in a press release. "We've been putting a lot of energy into removing the dangerous dead trees and felt it was time to get back to planting new trees because they add so much to the community and the environment."

What's also neat, is that Detroit residents will have a say in where the trees will go. "Neighborhood groups, block club associations, and residents can notify the Forestry Department where they would like the trees to be planted. A survey will be created where inspectors can collect addresses and verify if the areas mentioned by residents are viable enough to plant a tree."

Would you like to request a tree planting in your neighborhood? Contact the Forestry Department here.

Detroit hosts inaugural vinyl manufacturing conference

Earlier this year, we reported about how Detroit was poised to become one of the premier cities for vinyl record manufacturing in America. This is taking place due to growing interest in records nationally, as well as the city being home to two of the roughly 20 vinyl pressing facilities left in the United States. 

And if a recent event is any indication, this distinction is being recognized. As the Metro Times reports, Detroit just hosted the first-ever vinyl industry conference. 

"Colonial Purchasing Co-Op put on its first ever vinyl conference, Making Vinyl, on Monday and Tuesday at the Westin Book Cadillac hotel in Detroit," writes Sara Barron. "Organizers said the goal was to bring together key players in the industry to discuss the resurgence of vinyl."
 
[Read Model D's article about vinyl manufacturing in Detroit]
Keynote speakers at the conference included Jack White, founder of Third Man Records and the White Stripes, and Michael Kurtz, co-founder of Record Store Day, which takes place every year on April 21. 

Making Vinyl was well represented by industry professionals, and gave out a number of awards for vinyl cover art and packaging. 

Effort underway to reach all 60,000 homes facing foreclosure in Detroit

Last month, we told you about a surprising partnership between a small but impactful anti-foreclosure organization, United Community Housing Coalition (UCHC), and the large Detroit-based mortgage lender Quicken Loans. The two have been collaborating to prevent displacement through a program that will give tenants of 80 foreclosed homes the ability to purchase the house for between $2,500 and $5,500.

Since then, the collaboration has only expanded. UCHC and the Quicken Loans Community Investment Fund (QLCIF) will be partnering with an additional eight community development organizations on "an extensive education effort addressing the pervasive issue of tax foreclosure in Detroit."

That effort will entail knocking on the door of all 60,000 houses at risk of foreclosure to inform tenants and owners of their options and connect them to resources. Through a $500,000 donation from the QLCIF, the "Neighbor to Neighbor" program hopes to enlist more community groups and volunteers towards the effort. 

"No one organization can do this work alone," said Laura Grannemann, vice president of investments for the QLCIF, in a press release. "We need everyone working together to connect Detroit residents with the tools that will keep them in their homes and allow them to continue building equity as the city grows."

One of the tragedies of the crisis is that many foreclosures could have been prevented by tax exemptions, but owners weren't aware that they qualified. Better outreach could keep thousands of homes in the hands of their owners. 

If your organization would like to help the "Neighbor to Neighbor" effort, apply here. Applications will be accepted through Friday, November 10, 2017.

Winners of fourth annual NEIdeas Challenge announced

Another year, another round of grants have been disbursed through the NEIdeas Challenge

Now in its fourth year, the challenge annually awards 22 businesses in Detroit, Highland Park, and Hamtramck with grants of $10,000 and $100,000. 

"Neighborhood businesses matter," says Pam Lewis, director of the New Economy Initiative (NEI), in a press release. "In pursuing our mission of building an inclusive support network for entrepreneurs and small businesses in southeast Michigan, we wanted to do something that not only acknowledged neighborhood businesses for their contributions to their communities, but rewarded them for thinking courageously about growing."
 

[Read Pam Lewis's op-ed for Model D on the importance of looking to city residents to help solve Detroit's problems]


Some of this year's winners include chocolate goods producer Bon Bon Bon, two Southwest Detroit restaurants (El Asador Steakhouse and Taqueria El Nacimiento), Highland Park gathering space Nandi's Knowledge Cafe, hair care and beauty company Naturalicious, and more. 

The two winners of the $100,000 grants were Bel Air Luxury Cinema, Detroit's only first-run movie theater, and Vaughan Industries, a manufacturer of equipment for the car wash industry.

Over those four years, NEI has awarded a total of $1.9 million to 118 businesses.

Also noteworthy is that 80 percent of NEIdeas winners are minority-owned businesses, and more than half are women-owned businesses.

NEI is hosting a gala to celebrate and officially award the winning businesses on Nov. 2 at 6 p.m. in Eastern Market. Food and drinks will be provided by past NEIdeas winners. For more information, click here

Renovations complete, programs commence with journalist Stephen Henderson's Tuxedo Project

Around this time last year we reported on an interesting project—one that even made our list of the 7 most exciting developments in Detroit for 2017—spearheaded by Stephen Henderson, a Pulitzer-prize winning columnist for the Detroit Free Press. Henderson had just completed a successful Patronicity campaign to purchase his childhood home on Tuxedo Street, which had fallen into a state of disrepair, so he could renovate and transform it into a literary arts and community center. 

We're happy to report a year later that the Tuxedo Project is moving along almost exactly as planned, and then some. Yesterday, with the help of the Detroit Land Bank Authority and the Adamo Group, the dilapidated home next door was demolished. Adamo donated the demolition, estimated at a cost of $18,000. 

Renovations were completed on the Tuxedo Project house itself this summer, and an English professor-in-residence, Rose Gorman of Marygrove College, moved there in August. Already the house is active with literary events—Gorman has hosted a poetry slam and her creative writing class meets there. 

"It's a literary center," Gorman says. "And the easiest way to start doing the work that we hope to do in the future is by doing, well, literary stuff."

On the newly-vacant adjacent lot, Henderson plans to build a community space with easy indoor/outdoor access, and perhaps an urban garden.

This project is intensely personal to Henderson—he grew up on the block, in the very house that was renovated, and is using it as a platform to uplift people through writing and reading. "The literary arts are what carried me from this house to all the other opportunities I've had in my life," Henderson says. "And that should be available to everyone."

17 of the 35 houses on the block were abandoned when Henderson launched The Tuxedo Project. Three houses later—two demolished plus the literary house—and there's still much work to be done. His goal is to demolish or renovate all of them.

Henderson is quick to note that Tuxedo Street is not unique. 

"I hope it's eventually possible for projects like this to take place throughout the city using market tools … This happens to be my house, that's why I focused on it, but there's hundreds of blocks like this throughout the city."

University of Michigan to offer bus service connecting Ann Arbor and Detroit to general public

One of the many benefits contained in the regional transit millage that failed to pass in last November's election was a rail line connecting Ann Arbor to Detroit. There hasn't been a simple, reliable, and affordable means of public transit between the two cities for some time. 

Until now. 

The University of Michigan will be offering service to all riders on its Detroit Connector, a bus that was previously only available U-M faculty, staff, and students. Starting Monday, Oct. 30, the general public will be able to use the service seven days a week.

"The University of Michigan is deeply committed to creating a more diverse, equitable and inclusive campus environment," says Robert Sellers, vice provost for Equity & Inclusion and chief diversity officer, in an article on the university's website. "The Detroit Connector helps us break down existing barriers and better connect the Ann Arbor, Dearborn, and Detroit communities. By expanding service and opening it to the public, the Detroit Connector can improve access to the region's numerous research, academic and cultural opportunities."
 

[Read about what's next for the regional transit millage in SE Michigan]


There will be three stops along the route—Central Campus Transit Center in Ann Arbor, University of Michigan Detroit Center, and University of Michigan-Dearborn. Buses will depart from the Ann Arbor and Detroit locations several times per day, and have expanded hours on Friday and Saturday. 

The buses are equipped with WiFi, in-seat AC electrical outlets, and bike storage. 

One-way tickets will cost $8 for U-M affiliated riders and $10 for the general public (discounts for commuters are also available). Reservations can be made online. 

Detroit Sip in Live6 to celebrate long-awaited opening

When a brick and mortar business opens, it's always a cause for celebration. But in the case of Detroit Sip, a coffee shop on McNichols Road in the Live6 area, it's really a cause for celebration.

On Saturday, Nov. 18, Detroit Sip will celebrate its grand opening after a lengthy saga of trying to open its doors. Renovations have been completed for months, community and other events have been held there, and owner Jevona Watson has been working diligently to open. But red tape and other issues have held delayed that from happening until now. 

Watson even spoke to Model D back in February this year for a video (see above) on the coffee shop and its potential importance to the neighborhood. 
 

[Read more articles from our On the Ground series in Live6 and the North End]


With the recent groundbreaking of the nearby Ella Fitzgerald Park and construction underway next door at the new Live6 Alliance HQ, HomeBase, the coffee shop couldn't be opening at a better time. 

The grand opening of Detroit Sip will take place Nov. 18 from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Check out the Facebook event page for more details. 

Downtown Synagogue launches crowdfunding campaign to keep its programming free

The Isaac Agree Downtown Synagogue, Detroit's last free-standing synagogue, has been an important fixture of the city for nearly 100 years. Since opening it's doors in 1921, the synagogue has held free Shabbat and High Holiday Day services, and free membership to its congregants. And it's looking to continue those important traditions.

That's why the Downtown Synagogue has launched its inaugural "Keep It Free!" campaign, hoping to raise $100,000. In the past, the synagogue has remained open through foundation grants, but is looking to switch to an annual campaign drive funding model. 

"We are really excited to be altering our funding model to match how we exist in the community," said Oren Goldenberg, chair of the synagogue's fundraising committee and member of the board of directors, in a press release. "We have always been a place that is open to the larger community, beyond those who worship with us. This movement towards an annual campaign allows everyone who touches the synagogue to be a supporter in its sustainability."

As recently as 2008, the Downtown Synagogue was in a desperate situation. With an annual budget of $12,000, it was close to closing. Since then, the synagogue has continued to grow in both budget and scope, employing a rabbi, executive director, and programming director, and helping to run an urban garden on the east side, Eden Gardens Block Club. 

The synagogue also throws legendary dance parties several times a year that are free to the public. 

"'Keep it Free!' is a reflection of the Downtown Synagogue's commitment to remaining a primary resource for the metropolitan Detroit Jewish community and the community at-large," said Rabbi Ariana Silverman, in a press release. "Our plan to keep access to our programs free of cost underscores our belief that we have an obligation to make a difference for all Detroiters."

You can donate to the Downtown Synagogue's "Keep It Free" campaign here

Thanks to a 24-year-old grad student, paying your water bill in Detroit has never been easier

Last month we reported about all the exciting ways the city of Detroit has expanded its use of technology to provide better access and services. Thanks to a 24-year-old metro Detroiter, the city has added yet another piece of technology to its tool belt.

A new portal and app has been created for the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department (DWSD) so that customers can access and pay their bills online, with mobile devices, and even through Amazon's Alexa. The app went live in August and the city claims that over $2 million in water bills from 4,000 customers have already been paid. 

What's also amazing is that the city struck a licensing agreement with a graduate student at the University of Michigan, Abess Makki, 24, who founded the software company CityInsight, which uses technology to help municipal governments with their operations. 

"This technology is a win for everyone," Makki said in a press release. "CityInsight enables Detroit to collect more revenue, have more satisfied customers, and promote smart consumer habits."

With the new DWSD portal, residents can register their account, make or schedule payments, monitor payments and account history, track their water usage, and more. 

Makki founded CityInsight in 2014 in response to water shutoffs for Detroit residents because of thousands of unpaid water bills. He thought that if residents had a more convenient way to pay, and if the city made billing information for accessible, some shutoffs could be prevented. 

Partnership between Quicken Loans and Detroit housing assistance org prevents 80 foreclosures

Several fascinating partnerships have emerged in recent years to address some of Detroit's problems. We wrote about the Equitable Internet Initiative, a partnership between community groups, a foundation, a grassroots technology organization, and an internet service provider to deliver internet to Detroiters lacking access. 

Another surprising partnership has been struck, this time to prevent displacement from foreclosure. 

The Quicken Loans Community Investment Fund (QLCIF), city of Detroit, and United Community Housing Coalition (UCHC) have developed a program that will result in 80 tenants of foreclosed homes the ability to purchase the house for between $2,500 and $5,500.

Proceeds from these purchases will go to UCHC, an anti-foreclosure advocacy nonprofit, for further tax foreclosure outreach efforts. QLCIF donated $300,000 towards the effort. 

"The occupants of these homes were in a precarious situation because their landlords failed to pay property taxes, putting them at risk of eviction after the foreclosure auction," said Michele Oberholtzer, UCHC Tax Foreclosure Prevention project coordinator, in a press release. "Empowering these tenants to become homeowners achieves two important goals: residents are able to affordably start building equity in their home and neighborhood, and homes remain occupied."
 
[Read more about UCHC in our article about Detroit organizations helping prevent foreclosures]
The 80 future homeowners were determined suitable based on three criteria: no outstanding warrants, passed HUD home inspection, and ability to pay up to $5,500 for the home. 

QLCIF and UCHC began collaborating in May this year to reach out to as many tenants of tax-foreclosed homes as possible. They contacted 3,300, and 2,100 avoided tax foreclosure, according to Quicken Loans.

After years of false starts, RoboCop statue will finally get erected in 2018

Detroit is finally getting a RoboCop statue. According to a Detroit News article, the finishing touches are being put on the 11-foot, 3,500-pound bronze statue based on the iconic film, which will be erected in Spring 2018. 

In 2011, a couple of Detroiters, Jerry Paffendorf and Brandon Walley, raised $67,436 in a successful Kickstarter campaign to construct a RoboCop statue. But the project then ran into some roadblocks.

They had trouble finding a location for the statue. The sculptor, Giorgio Gikas, got colon cancer. And the construction of the statue itself took longer than expected. 

"At times, he had two employees working on RoboCop, 40 hours a week each," writes Stefanie Steinberg.

"'Put that through three-some years now, and you see how much this project really has cost me,' he said." Gikas humorously says that the project has been "a pain in my butt, besides the colon cancer."

The exact location of the statue has yet to be released to the public, but Gikas knows where it will be. (Spoiler: not Hart Plaza)

"So the speculation will continue—at least for a few more months," writes Steinberg. "Walley said he plans to throw a 'big Robo party' to which they'll invite Kickstarter supporters, "RoboCop" movie stars and even [former Detroit Mayor Dave] Bing."

"'We've heard from people around the world that they want to make the pilgrimage to Detroit to see it,' Walley said. 'So we really see it as a great tourist (attraction).'"

Estate sale at Motown Mansion presents opportunity to buy rare Motown memorabilia

If you're a superfan of Motown music, you might have a one-of-a-kind opportunity to own a part of music history. On Oct. 12, an estate sale and global auction will take place at the so-called Motown Mansion, the former home of Motown Records founder Berry Gordy. 

"This home is an important part of the fabric of the city of Detroit, and the sale will allow Motown fans from Detroit to Dubai to add a permanent piece to their own collection," said Cynthia F. Reaves, owner of the Motown Mansion, in a press release. "The scope of the collection includes small items as well as impressive collection pieces. I wanted to make this an event that is available to the entire community."

Those pieces include Gordy's old Steinway piano, home movies and slides, original pressings of Motown singles and 45s, antiques, as well as oddities like "an engraved goblet from Hazel Joy and Jermaine Jackson's wedding." The global auction will be open to international bidders to acquire "exclusive high-end antiques, historical Detroit objects, and Motown memorabilia."

There will also be appearances by Motown artists and other special guests, like Duke Fakir of The Four Tops, Kim Weston, and members of legendary Motown backing band The Funk Brothers.

The Motown Mansion is a 10,500 square-foot home in Detroit's Boston Edison neighborhood where Barry lived until 1969. The event is put on by Aaron's Estate Sales.

The three-day estate sale will run daily from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., October 12 to 14. There is a $5 fee to attend the sale. For more information, go here.

Kresge Foundation to provide $1M in grants to Detroit community development organizations

We've been covering neighborhood development news a lot lately, as all parts of the city have gotten more notice for development potential. Some developers have also taken a more nuanced approach to the practice, trying to minimize displacement while creating wealth for Detroiters. 

One way to do that is by support local assets. And that's exactly what the Kresge Foundation is doing with the announcement that it will be providing $1 million dollars in grants to 21 community organizations throughout Detroit. 

"Groups on the front lines of the city's revitalization told us that operating support for their day-to-day operations is the most important contribution we can make to support their work," says Wendy Lewis Jackson, managing director of Kresge's Detroit Program, in a press release.

Organizations like the Southwest Detroit Business Association and the Osborn Neighborhood Alliance will receive between $30,000 and $60,000 annually. 

GenesisHOPE, a community development arm of the Genesis Lutheran Church on the east side that does a lot of work with food security, is one of the smaller organizations on the list, having only two full-time staff members. The grant will allow GenesisHOPE to retain staff and devote more time and resources to engaging the community, says the group's executive director, Jeanine Hatcher.

"There's no one strategy that necessarily works across the city, but these groups are adept at figuring out which ones are worth pursuing on their home turfs," says Hatcher, in a press release. "We are proud to support them, and we'll also be working to bring them together to give them chance to learn from each other."

Bedrock to invest $2.1B in downtown Detroit development projects

Bedrock, the real-estate and development firm headed by Dan Gilbert, has already reshaped downtown Detroit by buying and redeveloping dozens of historic buildings and populating them with tenants. But its project of remaking downtown Detroit has just begun.

Bedrock just announced that it plans to invest an additional $2.1 billion in large-scale downtown developments. The projects include: the Hudson's Site, Monroe Blocks, Book Tower, and One Campus Martius expansion. 

"Detroit is going vertical," said Gilbert in a press release. "In fact, that is the only way to create any type of significant expansion in the city because we are virtually at full occupancy for residential and commercial space in both downtown and midtown. Transformational projects like these are necessary to both accommodate the expansion of current downtown businesses as well as making Detroit a legitimate competitor for new businesses and massive opportunities (like Amazon's HQ2), and attracting vital talent from all over the country and world."

The biggest development will be the 1 million-square-foot development on the Hudson's site, and cost an expected $900 million. Bedrock also claims it will have the tallest tower in the city. 



This publication is especially excited about the $313 million redevelopment of the Book Building and Tower, which Bedrock describes as "one of the most significant historic rehabilitation projects ever undertaken in Detroit." The Book Building has been abandoned since 2009, but was acquired by Bedrock in 2015 and got a power wash to its dirty limestone earlier this year. 

[Check out this Model D article on a Detroit company that specializes in historic restoration and worked on the Book Building]

Census: Detroit incomes up, poverty down, but results still mixed

The U.S. Census' American Community Survey was released Sept. 14, and the numbers overall are very encouraging for Detroit. 

According to an analysis in the Detroit News, from 2016 to 2017 poverty is down 4 percent to 35.7 percent. Median income rose 7.5 percent from $28,099 last year, "the first significant income increase recorded by the U.S. Census Bureau in the city since the 2000 census," write Christine MacDonald and Nicquel Terry. 

But it's hard to tell if much or any of those gains have made their way out to the neighborhoods. "Overall it's a great story for Detroit," Kurt Metzger, demographer and director emeritus of Data Driven Detroit, said in the article. "But when you look beneath the surface, we still have a lot of issues. There is a constant narrative out there: Are all boats rising together?"

Detroit is still the poorest big city in the nation, and Mayor Mike Duggan says there's still much more work to be done. The article also cites job programs and opportunities that have had a city-wide benefit, like Detroit At Work job training program. 

Numbers for the state overall were positive, with income rising and poverty decreasing. Though those rates were still below the national average. 

Read the full Detroit News article here
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