Rocket's foreclosure prevention effort will contact 50K at risk Detroiters by phone

Sarah Rahal
The Detroit News

Detroit — The Rocket Community Fund on Tuesday will begin reaching out by phone to 50,000 city homeowners at risk of losing their homes to tax foreclosure. 

The fund's third Neighbor to Neighbor housing stability campaign, which seeks to connect Detroiters with resources to keep them in their homes, is a departure from its traditional door-to-door canvassing. 

The Rocket Community Fund said it has partnered this year with the multinational consumer credit reporting firm Experian on the approach that officials expect will increase resident response and reduce the time traditionally spent on canvassing.

“The Rocket Community Fund is obsessed with finding a better way to ensure that all Detroiters have access to a stable home,” Laura Grannemann, vice president of the Rocket Community Fund, said in the release. “The ongoing pandemic has pushed us to find new ways of creatively reaching Detroiters in order to support them and collect data around their changing needs. Thanks to the collaboration with Experian, this year’s Neighbor to Neighbor does just that.”

The goal of Neighbor to Neighbor is to help residents obtain a property tax exemption through the Homeowner Property Tax Assistance Program, now HomeOwners Property Exemption.

Laura Grannemann, vice president of the Rocket Community Fund, said the COVID-19 pandemic has pushed the foundation to find new ways of reaching Detroiters. The Rocket Community Fund will launch its third Neighbor to Neighbor canvassing effort Tuesday to reach homeowners at risk of property tax foreclosure.

Neighbor to Neighbor also collects data through surveys. This year’s survey will include more extensive questions about home repair needs, officials noted. 

The canvassing program began as a pilot in 2017. In 2018 and 2019, teams visited every household in Detroit behind on property taxes, officials noted. 

Between 2015 and 2019, when tax foreclosure prevention efforts in Detroit began to ramp up in partnership with philanthropic organizations, the number of occupied houses entering the Wayne County Tax Auction were reduced by 94%, according to the Rocket Community Fund.

The county's tax foreclosure auction was canceled in 2020 and 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Rocket Community Fund said it will underwrite the costs for nonprofit partners to hire 20 full-time phone canvassers, who will earn $20 per hour over the course of the campaign, which is expected to last 8-12 weeks.

The campaign is a component of an ongoing $500 million joint philanthropic commitment made in March between the Rocket Community Fund and Gilbert Family Foundation. The Rocket Community Fund is the philanthropic arm of Rocket Companies, while the Gilbert Family Foundation is the personal foundation of Dan and Jennifer Gilbert.

Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan applauded Neighbor to Neighbor and its partners in helping Detroiters stay in their homes through the city's HOPE program. So far this year, 13,000 people have enrolled in HOPE, officials added. 

"This new partnership with Experian will allow us to connect with more residents who need tax relief and may have home repair needs as part of our ongoing work to strengthen neighborhoods," Duggan added.

Detroit homeowners with back taxes who have enrolled in HOPE and the city's Pay as You Stay, or PAYS program, are automatically eligible for support from the Detroit Tax Relief Fund, which eliminates property tax debt owed by low-income homeowners.

The Detroit Tax Relief Fund is a Gilbert Family Foundation program administered by the Wayne Metro Community Action Agency. The tax relief fund has paid off the tax debt of more than 2,000 Detroit families.

Last year, the Rocket Community Fund invested $1 million into the city's 0% interest home repair loan program after 38% of Neighbor to Neighbor respondents indicated there was a need for critical home maintenance. The organization said it is donating the costs of a call center for the City’s Renew Detroit home repair program, officials said.

The Rocket Community Fund recently replicated its Neighbor to Neighbor effort in Cleveland with Cleveland Neighborhood Progress and the Cleveland Foundation.

Separately, for city renters, Duggan noted Friday that the city has also had success in preventing 6,000 to 7,000 renter evictions.

Twitter: @SarahRahal_