Erika Linenfelser (Master’s Student, Urban Planning and Urban Design) and Alexa Eisenberg (Ph.D. Student, Health Behavior and Health Education) received a public scholarship grant to work on this project in 2017. You can learn more about their work at https://www.rackham.umich.edu/publicscholarship/programs/grants-program/2017-recipients/
Since 2010, nearly one in three Detroit properties have been foreclosed for unpaid property taxes. This ongoing crisis continues to displace and dispossess thousands of Detroit households each year. While various programs and policies to prevent tax foreclosure exist, a lack of awareness and access restrict their efficacy. Further, while residents and community-based organizations lead the fight against tax foreclosure, capacity is limited by access to information and to public resources.
How can we use collaborative scholarship to sustain and expand tax foreclosure prevention efforts in Detroit? This question drives our work, both as students and as housing justice advocates. The Rackham Program in Public Scholarship (RPPS) allowed us to bridge the gap between academics and activism, integrating scholarship and community expertise into strategies that strengthen community capacity for foreclosure prevention through network-building, education, and outreach.
We came up with the idea for our project though a community-academic research project, conducted in partnership with the United Community Housing Coalition’s (UCHC) Tax Foreclosure Prevention Project. Alexa is a co-investigator on this research, which seeks to better understand the barriers that residents face in accessing the Homeowners Property Tax Assistance Program (HPTAP). While HPTAP is a powerful tool for preventing tax foreclosure, a lack of awareness of the program and the burdensome application process prevents many from applying: less than 5,000 of approximately 40,000 eligible homeowners access it each year.
Erika and Alexa worked together to design these resources as part of the RPPS grant.
With RPPS funding and support, this research was translated into a community-based, multi-level pilot intervention to address program uptake. Through her research with UCHC, Alexa gained in-depth knowledge of the program that, when partnered with Erika’s design skills, could be translated into accessible education and training materials that serve individuals and community groups alike. In collaboration with UCHC and Tricycle Collective, these resources are coupled with community organizing efforts to develop and strengthen a broader, more integrated network for prevention and support. These materials engage service organizations, neighborhood associations, and community-based groups across the city in partnership.
The Tricycle Collective’s Annual Homelover’s Potluck during the summer of 2017.
Our website, fromclosuredetroit.com gives homeowners vital information about the program, including a step-by-step guide for applying and a list of organizations where residents can receive direct assistance with the application. This site also serves as a portal for our partner organizations, where they can access ready-to-use outreach materials for distribution through in-person interactions, door-to-door canvassing and community events. We have helped to increase capacity for foreclosure prevention through ongoing training events. These events equip groups with the skills they need to provide application assistance, community outreach, and pop-up “HPTAP workshops” in their communities. Ongoing monitoring and evaluation of these activities continues to inform the evolution of this intervention.
We are only midway through our project and RPPS has already enabled us to strengthen existing connections with community partners and develop new relationships with key stakeholders. This allows us to simultaneously improve our scholarship, develop professionally, and be accountable to the communities we hope to serve.
Alexa Eisenburg presenting our RPPS research at the Marching Forward Symposium
The Rackham Program in Public Scholarship (RPPS) supports collaborative scholarly and creative endeavors that engage communities and co-create public goods while enhancing graduate students’ professional development. We support graduate students looking to deepen their public engagement through four core offerings: The Institute for Social Change, Engaged Pedagogy Initiative, Grants in Public Scholarship, and Rackham Public Engagement Fellowships in sites across Southeast Michigan – all to support research, teaching, and projects that reach public audiences and foster impact beyond the classroom.