New funding for beautification projects will help Detroiters “reclaim the land” 

Community groups can apply for grants from the city’s new $2.25 million Neighborhood Improvement Fund. City officials are also helping community groups purchase or lease vacant properties owned by the Detroit Land Bank Authority for their projects. 


Detroit is giving out $2.25 million to help beautify its neighborhoods. It’s the first project of the Neighborhood Improvement Fund, which was created as a community benefits package tied to the Detroit Pistons development deal.

The Neighborhood Improvement Fund is putting up half the money for the beautification program. The other half is paid through the American Rescue Plan Act.

Speaking on Wednesday, City Council President Mary Sheffield says she expects to fund 50 projects this year.

“I have personally seen how community efforts like this one have transformed neighborhoods,” says Sheffield. “We build a sense of community and instill pride on blocks across the city.”

Neighborhood block clubs, churches and other groups can receive grants from $500 to $15,000 for projects like community gardens and vacant land development.

“This is a project that we’ve been working on for over 20 years. And I’m just thankful to God that it’s finally coming into fruition.” —Jennine Spencer, Field Street Block Club

Jennine Spencer with the Field Street Block Club on Detroit’s lower east side plans to apply. She says her group would use the money for their community garden.

“This is a project that we’ve been working on for over 20 years. And I’m just thankful to God that it’s finally coming into fruition,” Spencer says.

It’s a good opportunity for other block clubs in Detroit, Spencer says.

“Now they can reclaim the land and they will have funding to do the projects that they want to do for the land to beautify the neighborhoods and the communities.”

The program will also help organizations that want to beautify their communities but don’t own the land by assisting with purchasing or leasing vacant lots owned by the Detroit Land Bank Authority. City officials say applications should go online by the end of May.

“We will have a third-party entity that will be coming through City Council for approval that will be handling all applications,” says Donald Rencher, Detroit’s Group Executive of Housing, Planning and Development. “It’s a requirement for these federal funds that you’re a nonprofit or partner with a nonprofit. Our third-party entity will partner with you as they are a nonprofit to make sure you can spend that money.”

Sheffield pushed to create the NIF in response to resident concerns to implement a community benefits package attached to the development of the Detroit Pistons’ new headquarters and training facility in District 5, which Sheffield represents on the council. NIF dollars come from the proceeds of the net income tax revenue collected from NBA players’ salaries during home games played at Little Caesars Arena and the earnings of Pistons and Palace Sports & Entertainment employees. The funding is dedicated to neighborhoods outside of Midtown and downtown.

Sheffield says another $2 million could go to other areas in the city.

“We talked about housing. We talked about home repairs. We talked about, you know, smaller developments within our community,” Sheffield says. “So we’re going to be looking at priorities that council has to utilize the remaining amount of funding in the Neighborhood Improvement Fund.”

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  • Eli Newman
    Eli Newman is a Reporter/Producer for 101.9 WDET, covering breaking news, politics and community affairs. His favorite Motown track is “It’s The Same Old Song” by the Four Tops.