COMMENTARY: Our Story

By Kofi Bonner
Kofi Bonner is the CEO of Bedrock Detroit

Bedrock and the Rock Family of Companies have been in the news a great deal lately around the Hudson’s Site development.

The biggest takeaway from our recent work on the Hudson’s Site is actually how much work we have to do to tell the story of our commitment to all of Detroit. 

The truth is, we spend so much time doing the work in the neighborhoods that we don’t spend a lot of time talking about it. 

And so, much of our work is like the proverbial tree in the forest. If it falls and nobody hears it, does it make a sound?

So, with that in mind, I’ve asked the Chronicle for a bit of space to communicate some things that I am certain most folks don’t know about. And I appreciate their grace in giving us this opportunity.

Let me start with this, the fact that the Hudson’s development site is located within the Downtown Development Authority district (DDA). That means that the requested tax abatement only affects taxes that must stay downtown to support other downtown projects.

It’s the law of the land that has existed since the 1970s to spur investment in downtown urban cores. We can debate whether it is working, or whether the law should be revised, but it is the law of the day.

Let’s move on to the real story I want to tell: our work throughout the City, much of which is probably unknown. 

For the past five years, our Family of Companies has led the fight against tax foreclosure in Detroit, resulting in a 94% decrease in foreclosures among at-risk households.

How did we do it?

Working with more than 20 community partners, we launched the Neighbor-to-Neighbor program to knock on more than 60,000 doors every year—and conduct hundreds of workshops—to help Detroiters apply for the Homeowners Property Tax Exemption (HOPE) to reduce or eliminate their property taxes. 

In the year we began this effort, approximately 2,500 HOPE exemptions were approved. In the five years since, more than 45,000 HOPE exemptions have been granted for Detroit families in need. 

We didn’t stop there.  HOPE only addresses homeowners’ current year taxes, but far too many Detroiters had back taxes that constantly kept them at risk of foreclosure.  So we went to Lansing, and we led the fight to pass the Pay As You Stay (PAYS) program, which has worked to reduce back tax debt for qualifying Detroiters by an average of 50%.

We didn’t stop there either. In 2021, the Gilbert Family Foundation made an unprecedented commitment: if you qualify for the HOPE and PAYS programs, we will pay off the rest of your back tax debt, leaving you completely debt-free and secure in your home.  So far, working with our partners at Wayne Metro Community Action Agency, we have paid off the back tax debt for more than 7,000 Detroit families.  And we anticipate helping as many as 20,000 families before the program is over.

Through this process, we learned that homeowners were not the only ones affected by tax foreclosure. Rather, many Detroit renters were being displaced when their landlords failed to pay their taxes. 

So, partnering with the City and the United Community Housing Coalition (UCHC), we launched the Make it Home program to buy renter-occupied foreclosed properties out of auction and turn the renter facing displacement into a homeowner.  So far, Make it Home has created more than 1,100 new Detroit homeowners.  

We also made a commitment to stay close to those we assisted through these programs, to understand what more we could do to help. And we heard constantly that Detroiters needed home repairs.

So, earlier this year we launched the Detroit Home Repair Fund, a new $20 million program. Working with great community partners including Matrix Human Services, UCHC, Wayne Metro, the Eastside Community Network, Matrix Human Services, CLEARCorps Detroit and EcoWorks, this program will repair 1,000 homes in Detroit.

The list in fact goes on. 

We created a $10 million fund to support the development of minority contractors in Detroit, so they can do this home repair work and otherwise participate in rebuilding their city. 

We made an unprecedented commitment to fund legal representation for Detroiter’s facing eviction. 

We worked with partners to fund the purchase of 60,000 tablets and data plans for Detroit students and seniors to bridge the digital divide during the pandemic.

We have partnered with community to activate more than a dozen major neighborhood parks.

We have provided grants, interest-free loans, and other opportunities to support nearly 200 Detroit-based (and largely minority and female owned) small businesses.

We were a founding partner, and made a multi-million-dollar grant commitment, to create the Apple Developer Academy, a free program—with priority given to Detroit students—to teach coding and technology skills and set students on a pathway for promising technology careers.

We helped create and fund the new Pensole Lewis College, re-establishing the only Historically Black College and University in Detroit with a modern focus on design.

I am confident in saying there is no other organization that approaches the depth and breadth of this commitment to all of Detroit.  This is our story, and we take responsibility for not doing a better job of telling it.

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