Zero-interest loans help Fitzgerald residents repair homes

Detroit’s one-square-mile Fitzgerald neighborhood is wedged full of assets: tree-lined streets; a dedicated convening space for residents; community gardens; a new park repurposed from vacant land; 4,300 residential homes, mid-century brick construction; a synergy created by investments being made to the infrastructure by the City of Detroit, the Kresge Foundation and others; and an abundance of lifelong Detroiters as residents.
One of those residents is Patsy Wheatley, who lives on Stoepel Street near West McNichols Road, in the northeast corner of the neighborhood. Wheatley has lived in her home, built around 1950, for 20 years, purchasing the property when her three sons were young. Now her boys have children of their own, who are often over to play in the lot next to hers; Wheatley purchased and outfitted it for her grandchildren with a swing set and a trampoline. Of course, that made it a neighborhood draw for other children.
“When I get off work in the summertime, I'm almost the neighborhood babysitter because I end up with everybody's kids,” says Wheatley. “They know when I'm pulling up and they're ready to play.”

She says the children play into nightfall, keeping them out of trouble; she provides snacks and her brother who lives across the street will sometimes grill hotdogs for the kids.
But living in an older home comes with a fair share of upkeep, and that upkeep costs money. A few years ago, Wheatley knew she had to replace an old bathtub and do something about her drafty basement. When she learned about the 0% Interest Home Repair Loan Program through Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC) Detroit, she made a call and got rolling on an application.
The loan program was launched in April of 2015 between LISC, the City of Detroit’s Housing and Revitalization Department and Bank of America as a way to provide funding to Detroit homeowners looking to address health and safety issues and to improve their homes with needed repairs and updates. The newest funding partner to the program, the Quicken Loans Community Fund joined in 2019. Since the program started, it has received 157 applications in the Fitzgerald neighborhood; 72 of those were approved, with 42 completed home repair projects to date representing $1.05 million borrowed by homeowners and reinvested back into their homes.
Common items for loans are roofs, gutters and downspouts, windows, furnaces or air conditioning, kitchen or bathroom remodeling, and painting. Loan amounts are between $5,000 and $25,000, and homeowners have 10 years to pay back the loan.
According to Damon Thompson, Deputy Director of LISC Detroit, there is a sense of community in the Fitzgerald neighborhood, fostered by residents like Wheatley. Block clubs are vibrant and plentiful, with at least eight or nine established in the area, which borders McNichols to the north, Fenkell Avenue to the south, Meyers Road/John C. Lodge Freeway to the west, and Livernois to the east. The neighborhood is anchored between two educational institutions: University of Detroit Mercy and Marygrove College, which is being repurposed as a cradle-to-career educational center. Fitzgerald also is part of many different revitalization efforts, including the City of Detroit’s Strategic Neighborhood Fund and Live6 efforts around real estate and small business development, placemaking, safety and community engagement.

But Fitzgerald still needs to stabilize its housing stock and preserve existing housing. To aid in this area, LISC has partnered with the Kresge Foundation to target the loan program for home repairs in Fitzgerald.
Specifically, Kresge is supporting the Fitzgerald Outreach Project. The goal for the initiative, started in 2019, is to approve 100 homeowners for the 0% Interest Home Repair Loan Program using a targeted strategy with existing community partners. LISC has partnered with Touchpointe Network, a marketing and outreach company that focuses its efforts through the youth sports community and other community groups, for the outreach efforts.

The home repair loan program is supported by Touchpointe Network, and president Kevin McAdoo is excited about the future for the partnership.
Kevin McAdoo, President of Touchpointe Network, worked with LISC in the past when the program needed a fresh way to approach community engagement. 
While marketing efforts for the program in Fitzgerald were waylaid in 2020 by the pandemic, McAdoo has plans for a big push this spring. Once the weather allows, he and his team will be out door-knocking to connect with residents, and have plans for a postcard campaign to increase awareness about the program. Intake centers across Detroit offer help with applications along with providing free financial literacy classes. Incentives for applying will be part of the mix too. They might include tickets to UD Mercy sporting events or discounted dining in the Livernois corridor. McAdoo also plans on direct outreach to community organizations, block clubs, faith-based organizations and youth sports groups.  
The outreach efforts won’t just be educational about the loan program, says McAdoo. “We’re trying to tie more people in to get more people involved,” he says. “Not just in that particular 0% Home Repair Loan Program, but in the community at large.”
When homeowners are interested, the process is relatively straightforward: 1) they complete a home repair loan application, 2) they submit it to the nearest intake center (there are 11 around the city, but the one closest to Fitzgerald is Wayne Metropolitan Community Action Agency located inside the Northwest Activity Center off Curtis), 3) the application is assigned to a lender for underwriting and approval, and 4) if approved, an inspection is scheduled and homeowners are given a list of approved contractors to select for the work.
According to Wheatley, the process was reasonably easy, and mostly involved filling out paperwork and supplying financial information. Once approved for the loan, she was required to open an account with One Detroit Credit Union to route payments to, through automatic deductions out of her paycheck from Blue Cross Blue Shield where she has worked for 29 years. Her loan was around $5,000, covering the cost of tub removal and replacement, new bathroom tiles, spray-in insulation for the basement, and tuck-pointing to her porch.
“I try to tell as many people as I can, but people don’t want to submit the paperwork. It’s time consuming, but they’ll help,” says Wheatley. “You have to be patient, but some people’s patience is short.”
Other reasons for hesitancy to apply among homeowners include privacy issues (fear that the program personnel will report housing condition information to city inspectors, which is not the case); preference for a grant program where expenses don’t need to be paid back, versus a loan program; and distrust that it is really a zero percent loan. To combat this hesitancy, applicants can receive coaching through the intake centers on how to  complete the application and submit the required supporting documentation.
Dispelling those beliefs has its challenges, but McAdoo believes strongly in promoting the merits of the program: “It's a very, very straightforward process. It's here to do nothing to disturb the homeowner and the community. There's no trick to it. We're just there to service the homeowner, help the person improve their home’s value and quality of life. It's all positive.”

This is part of a series supported by LISC Detroit that chronicles Detroit small businesses’ journey in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Read more articles by Melinda Clynes.

Melinda Clynes is a freelance writer and regular contributor to Model D. She is the statewide project editor of Michigan Kids, a series of stories that highlight what’s working to improve outcomes for Michigan children. View her online portfolio here.
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