The community-based research project, “Investing in Us: Resident Priorities for Economic Mobility in Detroit,” aims to provide policymakers, philanthropic organizations, nonprofits and other service providers with clear guidance on how Detroiters define economic well-being and what strategies they think will work best to increase economic mobility, which is the ability to improve one’s economic status.

Key findings from Investing in Us include: 

• Residents want initiatives to reduce high costs of living in the city — like water bills and auto insurance — and get their neighbors working, through expanded investments in job training, mass transit and incentives for small businesses and corporations to hire locals. There is significant support among residents for green jobs, as they connect the need to address Detroit’s vast stores of vacant land with widespread unemployment.

• Many Detroiters care deeply about economic opportunities for people returning from incarceration and support more interventions to reduce barriers in accessing housing and employment for this population.

• Detroiters — both youth and adults — commented on the urgency of making sure everyone is prepared for life after high school and shared their experiences with inequalities in school funding and the high cost of college.

• Detroiters reported feeling unsafe often — due to dangerous traffic, crime and blight — and insisted on serious changes in community safety. Yet, residents have mixed views on what investing in public safety looks like: Some call for increased police presence in neighborhoods, while others want less policing and more investments in education, mental health services and employment. Detroiters have been outspoken on this issue for years, before calls to defund police departments gained national attention this summer.

• Detroiters want economic agency and the power to shape their communities by growing food, starting businesses and owning land, but they point out the need for more flexible regulations, technical assistance and financial support to make these visions a reality in a city where the median household income is less than $32,000 a year.

• Advocacy works. Residents have shared concerns about their neighborhoods for years, and in some cases, their efforts have paid off. Researchers noticed several instances where public agencies instituted policy changes or new programs in response to grassroots advocacy efforts. However, residents may not always be aware of these wins, which indicates the need for clearer communication from policymakers.

• Residents point to overall neighborhood neglect and overexposure to specific health and safety threats like blight and poor-quality food as evidence that their communities are not of value to decision-makers. Residents call for collective action to clean polluted air, build green infrastructure, provide access to quality food, and invest in physical and mental health resources in all corners of the city.

• Undeterred by feelings that their disinvested communities are excluded from Detroit’s comeback, many residents feel included within their communities and prize their relationships with each other. Detroit’s neighborhoods are rich in social capital in ways that provide economic benefits; residents collaborate and connect with each other to provide in-kind support, information, and even financial support. Decision-makers should build on this strength and find ways to generate more social capital and diverse networks in the city. 

• Information gaps sometimes prevent residents from learning about critical programs and services that could help with economic stability. To increase access to information, residents call for investments in online and in-person places to find credible information, such as community centers or mobile resource centers. Several co-authors emphasized that authentic relationships and social connections are at the heart of successful programs to promote economic mobility. Coaching or mentoring models that pair residents with staff to codesign pathways to employment or stable housing capitalize on relationships and have proven impact.

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