Resilient Neighborhoods: New NW Detroit nonprofit director excited to focus on 'home turf'

After decades of working as a community advocate in neighborhoods around Detroit, Jeffrey Jones' latest job has brought him right back to his own backyard. This January, he became the executive director of HOPE Village Revitalization (HVR), a community development organization based on the city's northwest side.

"This is the busiest I've ever been in my life, but I don't regret one second of it, because I'm helping my neighbors," says Jones. "I'm doing something I've always done professionally, but now I'm able to ply my trade on my own home turf. I am truly living the dream."

Jones is a lifelong resident of HOPE Village — the 100-block neighborhood located between Dexter Avenue, Hamilton Avenue, Lodge Service Drive, and the Conrail railroad corridor where the nonprofit is based — as well as the nonprofit's formerDexter Avenue Baptist Church (Steve Koss photo) board president. He replaces Debbie Fisher, who led the organization after it split off from Focus: Hope in 2019 and became an independent nonprofit governed by a community board.

The new director certainly has his supporters in the community. Khary Frazier is the founder of Detroit is Different, a podcast and online magazine, and Creative Differences Marketing. He's also served alongside Jones as an HVR Board member and looks forward to seeing him in action.

"He definitely has the enthusiasm and a passion for the community," says Frazier. "I believe he carries this with his heart, and I'm very excited to see what will come about [under his leadership]."

Rev. Richard White III is the pastor of Dexter Avenue Baptist Church and President of the Council of Baptists Pastors of Detroit and Vicinity. He's familiar with Jones both as a member of his church and a community activist and is also full of praise for him.

"I have known Jeffrey Jones for over 10 years, and he's a phenomenal brother who's doing great work in the community," says White. "He really wants to see the community revitalized and made stronger, so I know he's going to do an excellent job." 

Jeffrey Jones takes a stroll at Cool Cities Park in HOPE Village. (Steve Koss photo)A commitment to service

HVR's new director holds a Master of Public Administration from the University of Michigan and has studied urban planning at Wayne State. But his interest in community activism goes all the way back to his youth. His father, Alfred Jones was a neighborhood activist and block club captain who imbued his son with a passion for service.

Jones got his own start as a community organizer working with Franklin Wright Jeff Jones (Steve Koss photo)Settlements, a neighborhood human services nonprofit based on Detroit's east side from 1992 to 2008. Working there, Jones served as the site manager for the Sophie Wright Settlement, where the Boggs School is now located. One of his early assignments there involved finding common ground between local residents who saw the Heidelberg Project as an "eyesore" and others who felt it was a work of art and a potential economic development opportunity. 

He followed up his time with Franklin Wright Settlements working as a community manager with the Next Detroit Neighborhood Initiative (NDNI). The nonprofit focused on implementing a five-year strategy for improving the quality of life in several neighborhoods around Detroit, including Brightmoor, Osborn, North End, and Livernois and 7 Mile. 

"That was a big project under the Kilpatrick administration, where we targeted six neighborhoods to try intensive strategies [for] redeveloping, repurposing, revitalizing these different areas," says Jones. "You can see the fruits of some of that early work now."

One of the more visual endeavors during his time with NDNI involved working with local artists to install murals and sculptures in the North End. One of the most memorable of these public art projects for him is a freestanding sculpture at Oakland Avenue and Smith Street created by Kef Park called "How We Move". Jones also actively worked to support urban agriculture efforts, like the hoop houses at Oakland Avenue Urban Farm

His work has also included positions as a director of community organizing with Doing Development in Detroit Differently and as a chief executive officer with Bounce Back Detroit. 

Throughout his career as a community advocate, he's developed a deep appreciation for the impact seemingly everyday activities like urban gardening, the creation of public art, and bicycling meet-ups like Slow Roll can have for community members. 

"These things, they start off small. But if they're nurtured and you've got dedicated people behind them, these things can really snowball into some community-wide change activities." 

The LaSalle House in Hope Village is Detroit's first LEED Platinum certified home rehab. (Steve Koss photo)Moving toward a bright future

While he's always been a big booster of his neighborhood, Jones is also really excited about some of the new and upcoming developments taking place In HOPE Village.

These include the recently announced arrival of Detroit Horsepower, an equestrian nonprofit that teaches Detroit students how to ride and care for horses, and the burgeoning scene emerging around the Andy Arts Center, which hosts a variety of musical, performance, and visual arts events. 

Jones also expects good things to come from the Joe Louis Greenway, a 27.5-mile non-motorized path that will eventually run through parts of HOPE Village. The greenway will make it easier for bicyclists and pedestrians to travel to neighboring parts of the city and will likely spur investment along its route. 

The neighborhood will also serve as the pilot location for a new $10 million fiber-optic internet investment, which is being spearheaded by the city of Detroit and funded by federal American Rescue Plan Act dollars. The arrival of affordable high-speed internet infrastructure to the neighborhood will be a big upgrade from the current system, which suffered a 45-day internet outage during the early stages of the pandemic in 2021.

As for HVR's work, Jones is a big supporter of what's come before him. And he's committed to supporting the work the nonprofit has already been doing around issues like sustainable affordable housing, energy efficiency and renewable energy, community health, and providing healthy food to residents through its farmers market.

He also has some new priorities, including addressing zoning issues. Like many residents, he was upset when he learned of a recent plan to build a slaughterhouse in Pilgrim Village, a residential area of HOPE Village. Although that effort seems to have been derailed by resident opposition, the nonprofit director is still troubled by the presence of concrete trucks and other issues connected to what he sees as improper zoning for the neighborhood.

"We suffer from the legacy of this heavy industrial zoning over here in the same corridor that we'll be using for the Joe Louis Greenway," says Jones. "With the city's efforts to revise its master plan, we plan to be a very vocal participant for rightsizing HOPE Village and other similar] areas of Detroit." 

Jones also wants to expand the work HVR is already doing to work with community members to address the social determinants of health. In addition to making health-related information more accessible, he believes this will involve creating more opportunities for residents to walk, bike, and exercise in the community.

Looking towards the future, Jones will be focused both on growing HVR as an organization and supporting the new community-oriented developments that are happening in the neighborhood. Beyond that, he's optimistic about where the community is headed and definitely thinks it's a place that people should keep on their radar. 

"We've got good news to share right now, but just stay tuned," Jones says. "The next couple of years we're going to blow your mind!"

All photos by Steve Koss.

Resilient Neighborhoods is a reporting and engagement series that examines how Detroit residents and community development organizations are working together to strengthen local neighborhoods. It's made possible with funding from the Kresge Foundation.
Enjoy this story? Sign up for free solutions-based reporting in your inbox each week.

Read more articles by David Sands.

David Sands is a Detroit-based freelance writer. He's covered the news for Huffington Post Detroit as an assistant editor and worked as a staff writer for the transportation news site Mode Shift. Follow him on Twitter @dsandsdetroit.