In partnership with the Detroit Community-Academic Urban Research Center, Poverty Solutions, a University of Michigan faculty-led center and presidential initiative, took on nine, year-long projects in 2019 in an effort to combat the rising rates of poverty and evictions in Michigan using a cross-community collaborative approach.

Numerous cities within the state of Michigan, including Muskegon, Saginaw, Battle Creek and Dearborn Heights, are among the top 20 mid-size cities in the United States with the highest rates of eviction.

Robert Goodspeed, assistant professor of urban planning, Margaret Dewar, emerita professor of urban planning and Elizabeth Benton, an attorney working with the Michigan Advocacy Program, will be conducting Michigan Evictions: Assessing Data Sources and Exploring Determinants, one of the nine projects. 

Goodspeed said the project aims to analyze the factors leading to eviction. He suggests some of the causes might include varying housing costs in different geographic locations and a lack of access to legal services.

“It is evident that eviction is a state-wide phenomenon,” Goodspeed said. “Is it other factors like the cost of housing, or a lack of affordable housing in particular locations? Or is it the access to legal systems? The number of legal attorneys available and how close you are to their office really varies a lot throughout the state. (Attorneys) are doing their best, but just have limited resources.”

After observing the available data, Goodspeed hopes to identify patterns in eviction rates and then take it one step further by changing public policy.

“The other focus of the project is to understand the substantive patterns and work with courts to understand the data they have and then come up with recommendations on how the court system and how policy leaders can better track evictions in the state,” Goodspeed said. “We want to know how accurate is the data that is available and how we can set up systems so that we can monitor this system going forward. Because right now, there is not a good mechanism of doing that.”

Benton is an attorney at Legal Services of South Central Michigan, a legal firm in the Michigan Advocacy program that services low-income families involved in custody and evictions cases. She stressed the importance of this project, as evictions place an overwhelming amount of stress on these families already facing numerous challenges.

“Our concern is relative because we are representing these clients every day and see the tremendous impact that evictions have on their lives,” Benton said. “It’s not just about having to move, which is very disruptive — but it involves time off of work and time away from school. Housing is central to people’s lives, stability and wellbeing. So when they are evicted, it’s just a really horrible experience.”

Goodspeed and Benton’s eviction venture is just one of the nine projects created in attempt to mitigate large-scale poverty. More than $200,000 was distributed from Poverty Solutions among the projects to continue in the fight against financial inequality. Many of these projects will allow numerous University schools and colleges, including public health, nursing, social work and Michigan Medicine, to conduct research in collaboration with the greater Ann Arbor community. These partnerships include aid from the Detroit Community-Academic Urban Research Center, the Detroit Health Department, the Henry Ford Health System, the Community Health and Social Services Center and many other community-run facilities.

Luke Shaefer, director of Poverty Solutions and Public Policy professor, believes this system-level approach helps the community as a whole better understand and address poverty.

“The government can’t do it alone, the private sector can’t do it alone, and the University certainly can’t do it alone,” Shaefer said. “But we can if we work together. The role for the University is to bring data and analysis to bare so that we’re targeting the right policies and so that we really understand what we’re trying to grapple together. To really find solutions that work, we really have to have a working partnership.”

LSA senior Zachary Tingley, research assistant at Poverty Solutions, believes it is the duty of the University as a public institution to play a pivotal role in engaging with economic inequality.

“I think it’s important U-M conducts this research because any institution has a moral obligation to instigate change,” Tingley said. “The fact that Poverty Solutions is action-based and engaged with the community allows the University to recognize its impact on the community around it and embrace partnerships with non-university stakeholders.”

Other joint projects running this year include the testing of a simulation exercise called CHAT (CHoosing All Together), with goal of helping overlooked, minority members of different communities establish and prioritize health benefits. Poverty Solutions will also tackle food insecurity issues within impoverished homes by providing cooking classes. These plan to teach strategies that help reduce food waste and budget healthy and inexpensive meal plans.

Poverty Solutions has resourced about $9 million to fund research initiatives which have already produced an outlasting impact. Their research has altered the way Detroit Public Schools collect data on their homeless students and helped implement new methods to deliver community-wide health care support.

Though these projects will only run through the 2019 calendar year, Shaefer believes the initiatives will have a lasting effect on the fight against economic inequality and high eviction rates.

“I think (the team) is going to really map out and get a sense of what’s going on with the eviction landscape in a year’s time,” Shaefer said. “We will be able to find out what we can do to try to keep people in their homes while also supporting the overall ecosystem, and how we might be able to increase the affordable housing units. These types of policy levels are where the rubber hits the road. So, hopefully, in a year they have come to some proposed recommendations that could be moved forward. Sometimes change happens very quickly, and sometimes it’s much slower, so we’ll have to see what the landscapes hold.”

Correction: An earlier version of this article said Poverty Solutions was a student organization. 

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