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From Harm to Home: Replicating Detroit’s Make it Home Program

December 13, 2022

Make it Home participant Barbara Sledge (right) celebrates with Mayor Mike Duggan and Detroit City Council
Members Latisha Johnson and Fred Durhall III after an event announcing the 2022 Make it Home cohort.
Photo: City of Detroit, Flickr.

By Libby Benton, Associate Counsel to National Initiatives

The City of Detroit’s innovative Make it Home program harnesses the power of a traditionally harmful system—the property tax foreclosure process—and uses it to increase affordable homeownership, improve housing conditions, and stabilize neighborhoods.  

When landlords fail to pay their property taxes and face foreclosure, tenants are usually forced to move. These properties often become vacant, reducing homeownership opportunities, and continuing the harmful cycle of property disinvestment and decline. Make it Home disrupts this cycle by given tenants and other occupants of tax-foreclosed properties the opportunity to buy their homes and the providing support to maintain their ownership. Recently described by Detroit’s Mayor Michael Duggan as “one of the most impactful programs that the City manages,” the program also holds promise for other cities.  

The Center for Community Progress’ latest report, From Harm to Home: Replicating Detroit’s Make it Home Program, encourages other communities to explore creating a similar program. 

Overview and History of Detroit’s Make it Home Program  

Make it Home is a partnership between the City of Detroit, United Community Housing Coalition (UCHC), and Rocket Community Fund (RCF). This partnership is vital—the program uses the City’s legal power to acquire tenant-occupied, tax-delinquent, primarily single-family properties, sells the properties to the tenants, and provides funding and assistance for repairs and education and resources to help sustain their homeownership. Since its launch in 2017, the program has helped 1,396 tenants purchase their homes for an average cost of less than $10,000. A University of Michigan study of the first cohort of Make it Home participants found that after four years, 85 percent of the 80 participants still owned their homes. 

Overview of Detroit’s Make it Home Program, a partner effort between Wayne County, the City of Detroit, and United Community Housing Coalition.

Make it Home is a “win-win-win” for tenants, neighborhoods, and the City. Tenants get to keep the homes where they are living and become homeowners. Neighborhoods gain a home being cared for by the person who lived there instead of a property sitting vacant or owned by an irresponsible investor. And the City government avoids the public costs imposed by displacement and vacancy and instead gains a new homeowner and a more stable neighborhood. 

Make it Home Program Replication in Other Communities 

While the scale of occupied tax foreclosures in Detroit that spurred the creation of Make it Home was unique, many communities across the country face similar challenges. Communities facing substandard rental properties, the potential for tenant displacement after foreclosure, increasing vacancy, and declining homeownership would benefit from a creating a similar program.  

From Harm to Home details the Make it Home program, identifies communities that are good candidates for program replication, and provides information and resources to help these communities pursue replication. The report:  

  • Identifies and explains the five key components needed to replicate a program like Make it Home 
  • Identifies cities likely to have these key components and therefore be good candidates to explore replication, based on our research and experience working with communities facing vacant, abandoned, and deteriorating property challenges from around the country, 
  • Includes detailed “Replication Playbooks” for eleven communities that participated in a Make it Home Learning Cohort last summer, which helped these selected communities learn more about Detroit’s program and explore whether they could create a similar program in their communities, and  
  • Includes key lessons to help inform successful replication gathered from Make it Home stakeholders and researchers. 

The report also builds on Community Progress’ recent publication Reimagine Delinquent Property Tax Enforcement by providing a concrete example of how a community can help produce more equitable outcomes by reforming its approach to delinquent property tax enforcement.  

Make it Home takes a harmful process and uses it to support long-term neighborhood residents over out-of-state institutional investors, affordable homeownership over displacement, and stable neighborhood over vacancy and abandonment. We encourage communities interested in creating a program like Make it Home to use our new report as a resource and contact us at [email protected] to learn more about the program and further learning opportunities.   

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