Investing for Social Change in Detroit

Earlier this month, I had the opportunity to attend Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan’s second State of The City Address. While he highlighted the progress that has been made, ranging from increased lighting on the streets to faster EMS response times, he did not shy away from the challenges that lay ahead for the city.  He outlined five specific areas that he felt were critical for Detroit’s continued recovery: violent crime reduction, blight removal, job creation, auto insurance reform and education improvement.

He also mentioned one other challenge that lay ahead — filling a pension funding gap estimated at $450 million. This raises a serious question: who is going to help fund the areas critical for recovery, if the city also has to fund the pension gap?  The answer is: you! But it is a great opportunity. This is because it does not have to be in the form of increased taxes or charitable donations, but rather in the form of financial investment.

Detroit is certainly not alone in facing a funding gap. At a national level we have trillions of dollars of need for social and environmental programs, but the federal government only spends  $695 billion a year on its “safety net programs” and Medicaid.  Our annual charitable donations account for another $368 billion dollars, which still leaves us with a shortfall in the trillions. However, US households have $33.5 trillion in investable assets, and Southeast Michigan households have $488 billion (adjusted based on population). This money is currently invested around the country and the world; but if we as a community could tap into a small percentage of those investable assets and invest here in Detroit, we could help to close the funding gap to provide support to those most in need.

Let’s take a look at past, present and future examples of the types of investments that could help the mayor and the city move the needle in five key areas.

Crime Reduction: ShotSpotter is a gunshot location system that helps law enforcement locate gun fire in real time, allowing them to react more quickly than in the past.  Detroit has already deployed this solution, and the mayor acknowledged its contribution to the reduction of crime over the past year.

Blight Removal: Loveland Technologies has built a web based property visualization and survey tool. In 2014, they partnered with Data Driven Detroit, a data analytics company, to survey the entire city. This allowed the Blight Task Force to develop a data supported recommendation and implementation plan.

Job Creation: While Mayor Duggan is focused on job creation for all Detroiters, he also highlighted the importance of providing jobs for those who are difficult to employ. Several local organizations are working to address that issue, including Rebel Nell, which sells jewelry made from fallen graffiti, and provides employment for homeless mothers.  Better Life Bags provides employment opportunities for the industrious Bangladeshi women in Hamtramck. And Urban Ashes trains ex-felons recently returned from prison to make custom wood products.

Auto Insurance Reform:  This one might be a bit tougher.  Perhaps the Mayor could help finance the establishment of the D-Insurance program in order to bring down car insurance rates? Of course, I can’t mention auto insurance reform without mentioning the broader issue of increased access to transportation in Detroit. Belle Tire and the Detroit Lions Charities recently helped bring Baltimore-based vehicle donation program Vehicles for Change to Detroit. The program trains underemployed individuals to be auto mechanics who rehab cars that are sold to financially challenged families, at below market rates. The mechanics also provide services for paying customers in order to bring earned revenue into the organization.

Education: The topic that is on everyone’s mind.  Detroiters and the nation continue to be outraged at the conditions school children in Detroit are exposed to.  While it may be difficult for people to invest in DPS unless a bond is issued, community members can and have provided loans to both for-profit and non-profit charter schools for new construction, renovation, and equipment.

Detroiters have demonstrated that they want to invest in the success of their city.  Recently, the beloved Detroit City FC raised a $741,250 investment for their new stadium. If families and individuals throughout the region were willing to rally to that cause, I have to believe we can create the same momentum around investments that provide a hand up for those in our community who need it the most.

Jamie Shea is Managing Director of Investments at Mission Throttle. If you’d like to learn more about how you can use investments to create positive change in your community, please contact him at info@missionthrottle.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

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