A Closer Look at Two Detroit LISC Programs

By Meghan Kuhr, communications intern

CEDAM partner Detroit LISC is a part of the Local Initiatives Support Corps. Detroit LISC builds strong communities in Detroit by coordinating and investing in resources that contribute to sustainable neighborhood revitalization and community growth to give people an opportunity to not only survive, but thrive.

They are committed to building positive environments to ensure that all residents of any income level have the opportunities and tools to build assets, become part of the local economy and participate in the treasures their communities have to offer. Detroit LISC does this by focusing on affordable housing, financial stability, economic development, capacity building and other special initiatives. A few programs falling under these initiatives include the Detroit 0% Interest Home Repair Loans program and multiple AmeriCorps programs.

LISC Home Repair Coordinator Damon Thompson receives a tour of Lilly Gibson’s  newly repaired home on the East Side of Detroit. Photo Credit: The HUB Detroit.

The Detroit 0% Interest Home Repair Loans program was officially launched April of 2015 to combat the increasing demand for home improvement loans. In 2013, Zillow’s numbers projected that 80% of home improvement loan applications were denied, representing a lack of home repair capital from banking institutions. These loan denials were mainly due to people not having enough collateral or credit scores that were too low. The program was created as an initiative between the city of Detroit and bank of America to leverage funds and provide durable capital.

Damon Thompson, Detroit LISC’s Home Repair Coordinator, oversees the city-wide program, ensuring eligible homeowners are provided with 10 years’ worth of interest free loans to allow Detroit residents to better their well-being and economic standing.

The program is built on fair financing meaning that anyone, regardless of their income and as long as you meet the credit score and other criteria, is an eligible borrower for this program. There’s no application fee, there’s just the good faith payment that you pay to the lender. As there’s no income requirement to apply for a loan, 80-85% of people in the city are eligible applicants. With a pool of $15 million, the opportunity for Detroit homeowners to afford home repairs is possible. Financial coaching, among other resources the program offers, has also guided those within the program.

“We have a lot of people who’ve come back and say, ‘Hey, I never knew what my credit score was. It really wasn’t something I’ve thought about until I heard about this loan program,’” Thompson said.  

Thompson states that the most significant benefit of the program for him is working with the borrowers.

One borrower in particular comes to mind when thinking about how the program benefits the residents of Detroit. For five years, one woman had buckets scattered throughout her house to collect the water that was seeping through her roof. With the help of the program, she was able to receive a new roof, a new ceiling and new gutters. She said the first time it rained after the installations she ran to go get a bucket and remembered, ‘I don’t have to do this anymore.’

Detroit LISC’s AmeriCorps program is also helping to revitalize underserved neighborhoods in Detroit. The program places AmeriCorps members with local nonprofit partners to support their key initiatives. The program has placed 75 members since the program’s start in 2009.

The Detroit LISC AmeriCorps program has played a crucial role in supporting the community development industry in Detroit, especially because organizations have had a difficult past decade finding the capacity they want or need to carry out initiatives supporting Detroit residents. After the establishment of the program in 2011, Detroit LISC’s members have been able to provide community organizing, homeownership and financial counseling services, helping communities and block clubs create plans for themselves and obtain the community that they envision.

Stephanie Inson, Detroit LISC’s AmeriCorps local program administrator, assists in the host site selection process, guiding host sites through the enrollment process as they choose their own members. Inson then provides aid to both the members and the sites throughout the service year.

Stephanie Inson, AmeriCorps local program administrator at Detroit LISC

“The cool part about the AmeriCorps program is that members are doing this work every day, so we hear about their challenges and their successes on a day to day basis,” said Inson. “We get a range of ages of people who enroll in our program too, which is also really nice. So to see a young person—who may not have any formal experience in community development—to see that that light bulb moment where they understand the processes of working with government, working in community engagement and how they could potentially utilize those experiences in their life as they move forward, if they move on to something completely different or if they see a pathway for a career in community development for themselves, for example, [is really cool.]”

Also exciting for Inson are AmeriCorps members who come to the program with a wide-range of experiences.

“And then there’s also our elders, our senior members, who have been a part of their communities for a really long time, have been building these engagement skills throughout their life, and now can come into a formalized position where they can get more training and share their experiences with their communities and others throughout the city—[this] has been a really awesome experience too.”

Inson’s favorite part about working for LISC? “Knowing that we’re able to provide resources for organizations that are truly doing the work on the ground in the communities, and having those connections to represent the needs and desires of the residents, making sure that the quality of life is important.”

For Thompson, “It’s knowing the impact on the neighborhoods. Particularly, living in Detroit, it’s very gratifying seeing the work through the home repair program, not only in the impact on the neighborhoods, but in the impact on people because we have people who have lived in the city for 40, 50 or 70 years who made the investment in staying here and we’ve given them another vehicle to be able to continue to age in this place.”

Detroit LISC encourages those interested in their AmeriCorps programs to check in with them in May about available positions. For more information, please contact Stephanie Inson at sinson@lisc.org or (313) 265-2826.