Gilbert Foundation to pay tax debt of 5K Detroiters this year, hires community director

Sarah Rahal
The Detroit News

Detroit — The Gilbert Family Foundation announced Thursday it expects to pay off the back property taxes of 5,000 residents by the end of the year through its Detroit Tax Relief Fund and it has hired a native Detroiter to help oversee the program. 

The Detroit Tax Relief Fund was formed in March when billionaire business owner Dan Gilbert unveiled his plans to invest $500 million in Detroit neighborhoods over the next decade.

Since then, the fund has paid the back taxes of 1,600 Detroiters and has 3,250 more in the pipeline to be paid by the end of the year, the foundation said Thursday. 

Following a national search, the foundation has hired Darnell Adams as its Director of Detroit Community Initiatives to head the organization's city-based programs as part of its "Building Opportunity and Equity" pillar, previously announced by the Gilbert family.

Darnell Adams was hired by the Gilbert Family Foundation to serve as director of Detroit Community Initiatives. Adams will oversee the organization’s Detroit-based community programming as part of its “Building Opportunity and Equity” pillar of its $500 million commitment over the next decade to pay off the back taxes of Detroit residents and invest in neighborhoods.

The tax relief funds are administered by the Wayne Metro Community Action Agency and aim to preserve an estimated $400 million in wealth and home equity in Detroit.

“We are encouraged by the progress we have already made through the Detroit Tax Relief Fund in paying off the property tax burden of 1,600 Detroiters, unlocking equity and opportunity for them and their families,” Louis Piszker, CEO of Wayne Metropolitan Community Action Agency, said in a Thursday press release. “While the tax foreclosure moratorium was a critical need amidst the ongoing pandemic, our concern was that it would reduce the urgency amongst homeowners in enrolling in this program. We are grateful that has not been the case.”

As director of Detroit Community Initiatives, Adams will oversee the deployment of $350 million in philanthropic investment, which is directly tied to the ten-year, $500 million joint commitment between the Gilbert Family Foundation and Rocket Community Fund announced by Dan and Jennifer Gilbert in March.

Adams formerly served as vice president for program implementation at Invest Detroit, and as the director of inventory for the Detroit Land Bank Authority.

The Detroit Tax Relief Fund was formed in March when billionaire business owner Dan Gilbert unveiled his plans to invest $500 million in Detroit neighborhoods over the next decade.

“Dan and I are honored to welcome Darnell to the Gilbert Family Foundation team. His experience, talents and dedication to Detroit will lead to unprecedented impacts across our community,” Jennifer Gilbert, entrepreneur and co-founder of the Gilbert Family Foundation, said in the release. “Darnell leads by always asking questions first. His curiosity and empathy allow him to bridge gaps and connect residents to the resources they need, build community and grow access to equity and opportunity.”

Darnell will serve under Laura Grannemann, the interim executive director of the Gilbert Family Foundation and vice president of the Rocket Community Fund.

“Having the opportunity to work hand in hand with Detroiters — to be intentional, thoughtful and inclusive with the right partners and resources — has been a dream for me since I was a kid,” Adams said in a statement. “Detroit is full of talented organizations and individuals that have been doing incredible work to keep this great city moving during its hardest times. I look forward to building upon the Foundation’s relationships with those partners to scale up their impact.”

Besides the clients being served by the foundation fund, an additional 5,000 Detroit residents who sought the assistance have been referred for a property tax exemption through the city's Homeowners Property Tax Assistance Program, officials said. 

Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan has noted that he decreased property taxes by 20% shortly after taking office. A state-ordered reappraisal of all Detroit residential property was completed in 2017, but thousands of homeowners were left facing foreclosure over back taxes.

A Detroit News investigation in 2020 found that homeowners were overtaxed by at least $600 million in the years following the Great Recession. 

For information about the Detroit Tax Relief Fund, call (313) 244-0274 or visit the Wayne Metro Property Tax Assistance page.

Twitter: @SarahRahal_