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Quicken Loans co-founder Dan Gilbert announced a $500 million investment on Thursday that will offer economic opportunity to the residents of Detroit over the next 10 years.
The Gilbert Family Foundation will contribute $350 million while the mortgage lending company's parent, Rocket Companies, will invest $150 million through its community fund.
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Gilbert, a Detroit native, founded Quicken Loans in 1985 and moved its headquarters to the city in 2010. The company now has 24,000 employees, with roughly 500 living in Detroit.
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An initial $15 million investment from the Gilbert Family Foundation will wipe out the property tax debt owed by roughly 20,000 low-income homeowners in Detroit, preserving an estimated $400 million in wealth and home equity in the city.
Gilbert said during a news conference Thursday that many homeowners find themselves "significantly underwater" partly because of interest and penalties accruing on an annual basis.
He noted the issues of back property taxes, accruing interest and penalties have impacted one-third of Detroit properties alone and that property tax foreclosure was the "primary cause of blight and subsequent abandonment of those homes over the past several years.”
"Not only do these homeowners live on the fear that their home will be taken away from them, but this debt often prevents the property from being sold or refinanced, not to mention the heavy burden of seeing their home equity dwindle away year by year,” Gilbert said. "No person should have to make the decision between keeping their home or feeding their family."
He emphasized that the investment will offer a "new start and a new era for a large chunk of the city's residents who've been left behind for far too long."
"We hope this half-billion-dollar investment will touch every single Detroiter in some way, shape or form, experiencing our economic mobility to wealth creation and creating the future they deserve," Gilbert added.
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Jennifer Gilbert, Dan's wife and fellow co-founder of the Gilbert Family Foundation, said she held focus groups with Detroit leaders and residents to better understand the challenges and gaps that exist in the city.
She learned that those most threatened by falling behind on bills had the most difficulty accessing available resources. According to Gilbert, 150,000 proprties have entered a property tax foreclosure auction over the last 15 years.
While many low-income homeowners in Detroit are eligible for the city's Homeowners Property Tax Assistance Program (HPTAP), which provides a partial or complete property tax exemption, the assistance wasn't enough.
As a result, the investment from the Gilbert Family Foundation will establish the Detroit Tax Relief Fund, which will be administered by Detroit nonprofit Wayne Metro Community Action Agency and allow the organization to scale its programming and services, which offer resources to homeowners behind on their bills to prevent them from being displaced.
Residents who successfully apply for the HPTAP and get their current property taxes exempted or paid will have the remaining debt paid off through the Detroit Tax Relief Fund. The foundation also intends to keep up with participants of the Detroit Tax Relief Fund, forging partnerships designed to “break down systemic barriers, create new community-informed resources and successful program scale.”
Further investments will be focused on community priorities and may include digital equity, home repair needs, employment opportunities and other areas.
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Rocket Companies' $150 million community fund investment will focus on "housing, employment and public life."
The Rocket Community Fund's flagship program, Neighbor to Neighbor, has driven a 94% reduction of the number of homes entering the 2019 Wayne County Tax Auction compared to 2015. The number of owner-occupied homes that entered the auction – only 250 – was the lowest in more than 15 years.
During the Rocket Community Fund’s 2019 citywide canvas of tax delinquent properties through Neighbor to Neighbor, the organization discovered nearly 90% of Detroit homeowners behind on their property taxes should have been able to qualify for HPTAP but were not aware of the program or were unsure of how to apply.
The company's outreach also established the Make It Home program, which has helped more than 1,100 Detroit families stay in their homes while simultaneously creating hundreds of new homeowners.
Gilbert, who serves as Rocket Companies chairman, has been a vocal proponent of addressing housing stability since chairing the Detroit Blight Removal Tax Force in 2013.
Detroit homeowners who have received or are eligible for the HPTAP and the the Pay As You Stay (PAYS) program can learn more by calling (313) 244-0274 or by visiting Wayne Metro Community Action Agency website.
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