Dina Harris estimates that she's helped more than 3,000 families achieve homeownership in Michigan. In 2001, she founded National Faith HomeBuyers
, a non-profit agency that provides assistance to prospective homeowners. And prior to that, Harris worked in public housing for over 20 years as deputy and executive director of the Ypsilanti Housing Authority.
Because of her experience, Harris was asked to be a part of a home renovation program in Cody Rouge that started in 2016. The project, part of the larger Cody Rouge Strategic Initiative, is funded through the Housing Stability program at Quicken Loans
— a part of the Quicken Loans Community Fund. Created to find innovative ways to make an impact in communities, the fund invests in six projects that can have a social impact.
Housing Stability strives to develop a resilient Detroit housing market that is accessible, builds wealth for residents, and meets the needs of neighborhoods. The program invests in tax foreclosure prevention and reform, and improving the physical conditions of Detroit housing stock.
Homeownership has been a challenge in Cody Rouge. During a ten-year span, home vacancies quadrupled, putting a great deal of strain on the stability of the community.
With her years of experience in homeownership, renovation, and education, Harris was a perfect partner to help execute this project in Cody Rouge.
"At National Faith HomeBuyers, our core business is educating and getting people ready so they can close on a home," Harris says. "We have also re-developed over 700 houses, but it's not something that I really advertised. So, I was a little surprised when I was asked to join this project."
But Harris says she's been a valued member of the team and has worked closely with Quicken Loans, especially Adam Kokenakes, the project manager, and Laura Grannemann, vice president of strategic investments. "I can't say enough good things about them," Harris says. "There's nothing that I have asked them or recommended that they said 'no' to."
The project began by identifying eight homes in the strongest Cody Rouge neighborhoods, purchasing them from the Detroit Land Bank Authority, then rehabilitating and selling them. It's been a successful model so far.
"Our projects on Cathedral and Penrod Streets both sold before we even finished the renovations," says Harris.
House on Stahelin Street renovated Cody Rouge housing stability program
There is a mix of people buying the homes — a single mother, a set of grandparents with children and grandchildren, a millennial couple. All of the new homeowners moved into the area from other neighborhoods.
Harris believes in the power of homeownership to transform both communities and people. "It’s really exciting because homeownership is a means to wealth. It's one of the components of wealth," Harris says. "It gives you a sense of pride. It gives your children a sense of pride because it's their house. You'd be surprised at how it changes people."
One challenge of the program is that many of the houses were going to sell for less than they actually appraised for. The first house sold for $45,000 in an area that hadn't seen a sale in a while and had no comparable valuations. "I have to compliment Quicken Loans," says Harris. "They were prepared to take a loss to get that neighborhood back on its feet."
The housing giant has been responsible for so much redevelopment in downtown Detroit that they've faced some backlash from city residents. "A lot of times you might not hear the good things that Quicken is doing in our community," Harris says. "Yes, they are doing a lot downtown and transforming it, but this is just one of the things that is happening in the neighborhoods that compliments what they have done and who they are."
For Grannemann, the project is an important demonstration of the ways Quicken Loans can be an asset to communities across Detroit. "I think what we really tried to do in Cody Rouge is be as comprehensive and as thoughtful as we have been downtown and apply those resources across Detroit," she says. "Exercising all of our resources from lending to policy initiatives allows us to bear fruit in the neighborhoods as well. Utilizing resources across our family of companies this is something that is important to us to be done."
Harris has been working with other partners in Cody Rouge and believes homeownership is one of the main forces that could propel the neighborhood forward. "I think that if this project and subsequent housing redevelopment in the area continues, it will strengthen that neighborhood financially," she says. "Home ownership really means stabilizing a community.
"Those are the kinds of things that strengthen and rebuild neighborhoods," she adds.
Harris is not from the area, but has been inspired by it, and echoes the sentiments of many who work there. "One of Cody Rouge's greatest strengths is the sense of community. It's not everywhere. That's the kind of thing that will bring it back to where it once was."
This article is part of "Voices of Cody Rouge," a series that showcases the authentic stories of residents, community stakeholders, and local organizations helping to create and shape positive transformation in the Cody Rouge neighborhood of Detroit. This series is made possible with support from Quicken Loans, IFF, and the Cody Rouge Community Action Alliance.
Photos by Anthony Lanzilote.