Asset & Property Management: A Complementary Relationship

Mary Manuel, Asset Manager for Cinnaire (formerly Great Lakes Capital Fund)

Nonprofit organizations across Michigan (and the country) are helping to create vibrant and sustainable communities. Through a variety of neighborhood programs, opportunities for disadvantaged populations enhance their quality of life through access to safe and affordable housing and other supportive services.

However, real estate development is complicated and requires many decisions and functions that require diligent attention for it to be successful.

Asset and Property Management: A Necessary Pair

Commons at Penn Place

Commons at Penn Place – Development supported by Cinnaire (formerly Great Lakes Capital Fund)

At the very core of property ownership, asset management and property management are two important functions in successful real estate development and ownership. The two go hand in hand, yet they function very differently from one another. As assets, particularly real estate assets, are incredibly valuable to owners, success (or failure) is a direct result of understanding the details and expectations of these two essential functions.

A better understanding of these two important components will help those investing in real estate and working on development projects determine how to best use their resources.

A Global Outlook with Local Management

plumber-228010_640Broadly defined, asset management refers to any system that monitors and maintains things of value to an entity or group and takes on the global view of an asset. This includes the financial structure, short and long term goals for the asset, performance expectations, maintenance and perhaps eventual disposal and/or improvement of the asset.

Property management, on the other hand, is the day-to-day operations on the ground, resulting in systems and processes that ensure the functionality of the asset. Some examples include performing repairs, routine maintenance items and managing the people utilizing the asset (i.e. residents in apartments or commercial tenants in office buildings).

The Role of a Nonprofit

As many nonprofit organizations consider engaging in projects that require property development and/or management, it’s important for the strategy-developing team to decide how involved to be in each component that is required. Every single property owner, which may be the nonprofit organization, needs to build a skillset that understands the complexity that both components entail and manage them for sustainability and success, even if certain functions are contracted out.

Leverage Your Position

Market Street 1

Market Street – Development supported by Cinnaire

Real estate development has the potential to create important placemaking within communities, opportunities for residents and a better Michigan for everybody. Understanding the importance of marrying these two concepts into a bigger strategy, along with the implications of mismanagement is a serious consideration when organizing the necessary resources to prepare for future projects.

Whether your organization is interested in getting into real estate development or is already doing projects, a better understanding of these two functions and how their interrelationship supports successful projects is highly recommended, and will only enhance your proposals.

I encourage you to join us in Detroit on November 4 at Destination: Vibrant Communities, a professional development day hosted by CEDAM and CDAD. I hope to see you there!

Working Through Contradictions and Achieving Great Things

By Jennifer Grau, Grau Interpersonal Communications and presenter at the upcoming Destination: Vibrant Communities in Detroit.

Human beings are full of contradictions.

  • We are social animals, yet crave privacy and autonomy.
  • We live in a hyper-stimulating world, yet complain we are bored.
  • We accomplish remarkable feats, but can only exist in a narrow range of physical conditions.

Understanding people and their complexity is the secret to conquering the obstacles that keep us from giving our best and achieving remarkable things.

The business world calls this engagement.

Where Business Meets Community

Grau IC LogoI spend a lot of time walking between two worlds. By day I am a trainer, coach, facilitator and professional speaker. I work with people to enhance their communication, and by extension, their effectiveness in life. By night, I’m a community organizer. I work with my neighbors to make our community a vibrant, safe and welcoming place to live, work and play.

P1000383The day job makes my night job easier. I’ve learned that unless there is a crisis most people don’t have time or attention to participate in community activity. But that does not mean they are unwilling to make time if they feel valued, respected, needed, appreciated and welcome. They need to find some joy, connection, success, worth or growth when they give you the precious gift of their time. And the same holds true for staff in the work world. If you want the best from people you need to create the conditions for them to thrive … not just survive.

The Care and Feeding of Volunteers and Staff


  • Have you ever worked on a project that was joyous?
  • Have you worked on a team that was productive and fun?
  • Have you felt exhilarated and satisfied overcoming obstacles?

Experiences like these feel like magic but they are not. Chances are someone in your world created the conditions for your productivity, joy, growth and success.

Here are a few things you can do to foster an engaging environment for volunteers and staff.

  • Acknowledge and appreciate someone’s work. Even if it is their job (or volunteer commitment), it feels good to have your efforts and outcomes recognized.
  • Identify and express the connection of their work to the bigger picture. Essential tasks like stuffing envelopes may be dull and repetitive, but are fundamental requirements for a successful event or initiative to support your mission.
  • Transform your next mundane activity into something special. One easy way to do this is to bring food.
  • Design tasks to people rather than expecting people to be a perfect fit to the volunteer roles or staff description. Inquire about their interests and talents, along with what they might want to do or explore.  Support them in fulfilling those growth  needs.
  • Meet people where they are. Whether physically or ideologically start where your staff and/or volunteers are and create safe places for open interaction.
  • Level the playing field. There are lots of ways to do this, but too many to cover in a blog.

DVC-Postcard-print-v2Join Us to Learn More

Are you ready to understand more about the complexity of humans and how to nurture productive, engaging environments that advance your community?

Destination: Vibrant Communities is a single day of premier training hosted by CEDAM and CDAD in Detroit on November 4, 2015. I am leading a two part interactive session on community engagement. I will teach you how to create experiences like these for yourself and others and will explore the ways you can support, encourage and engage your staff and volunteers. I hope you will consider joining me and a bunch of talented, motivated and interesting people who are busy changing the world.


3 Reasons To Be Excited About Destination: Vibrant Communities

Written by Brian McGrain, Associate Director and Chief Operating Officer of CEDAM

DVC-Postcard-print-v2As the Associate Director of a nonprofit community development organization in Michigan, its not often that I get access to training directly relevant to what I do on a day-to-day basis. Aside from the Building Michigan Communities Conference (BMCC) held in Lansing every Spring, there’s not a lot of opportunity to participate in small group learning sessions that will help me successfully manage my duties to grow and enhance my organization.  

That’s why I’m especially excited about the upcoming Destination: Vibrant Communities conference hosted by CEDAM and CDAD in Detroit in November! Many talented, dedicated nonprofit professionals and advisers will be providing their time to help us hone our skills in diverse areas including fund, organization and real estate development.

Here are the top three reasons why I am excited for this upcoming day of professional development.

1. New Strategies for Fund Development

Richard Martin of Lutheran Social Services will walk us through some strategies for fund development deployed by top-level fundraisers. Richard is a recent recipient of the Chair’s Award for Outstanding Service presented by the Association of Fundraising Professionals. He is a national leader in the fund development world with more than 20 years of experience and is well-connected in SE Michigan. He has taught and mentored thousands of fundraisers in techniques of professional fundraising.

2. Jennie Grau’s Super Session on Community Engagement


Jennie Grau leading a session in February 2015 about developing your own human capital.

Jennie Grau of Grau Interpersonal Communications will be returning as a favorited trainer. She has more than 20 years of experience in consulting work and in leadership development. She has conducted speaking, listening and conflict management workshops for corporate, nonprofit and educational clients. For this training, she will work with attendees to develop their engagement skills to bring the most benefit to the communities they serve in a longer, super session.

3. Keynote Speaker Amanda Edmonds

Finally, our keynote will be provided by Amanda Edmonds. Amanda is not only the founder of Growing Hope, a community group focused on improving residents’ lives through gardening and health food access, but she is also the recently-elected Mayor of Ypsilanti. She will share her experiences with starting, sustaining and growing a nonprofit as well as providing frank insights regarding challenges faced and lessons learned.
These are just three of the many talented speakers to be featured at Destination: Vibrant Communities this year. As we intentionally keep the size of the conference small so to facilitate greater one-on-one time between speakers and participants, you’ll want to sign up right away as to not miss out on these great sessions! Looking forward to seeing you there!

Register for the day of professional development before October 9 to receive the early bird rate. Register here.

Property Assessed Clean Energy Financing: Setting the “PACE” for More Development in Michigan

By: Robert E. Mattler, Market Leader in Michigan for PACE-Equity

PaceEquity-infographOne of the most difficult parts of any worthy real estate development or retrofit involves finding sufficient capital to fund the project. For a variety of reasons, the task is even more difficult when the project involves a nonprofit as the owner, the project location is in a challenged neighborhood or it is a multi-family housing with some form of government subsidy. Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) financing is a new option to consider when identifying potential funding sources for these types of projects.

Property Assessed Clean Energy (Act 270 of 2010) is a Michigan law that offers an innovative, affordable method to address the challenges faced by economic development organizations. PACE is law in 31 states, including 18 counties and 5 cities in Michigan. Despite the legal component, counties and/or cities must take the initiative and “opt in” to implement use of the law.

How does Property Assessed Clean Energy financing work?

PACE uses the financial power of long-term energy savings to make improvements possible immediately, while spreading the cost over an extended period of time. The money that building owners and developers now spend on energy and water can be redirected into improvements that add value to the building, project or portfolio. PACE has many potential benefits when compared to traditional financing, including:

  • Boosts property values without negatively impacting the owners’ balance sheet;
  • There are NO out of pocket costs to the owner for using PACE financing;
  • A PACE transaction is by definition a self-imposed property tax assessment, it is not considered a loan to the owner, therefore it easily transfers to any future owner;
  • Since PACE is considered a self-assessed property tax, tenants would pay the special property tax on any lease in which they are responsible for their share of property taxes;
  • A PACE transaction can be considered off-balance sheet financing, thus keeping an owners’ balance sheet free of additional liabilities, allowing it to preserve borrowing capacity for core mission or more essential business needs;
  • PACE is non-recourse lending at its finest. The financing is tied more to the property than the property owner, so no guarantees are ever required;
  • By law, any PACE project over $250,000 must come with a contract guarantee ensuring that savings over the life of the finance period will exceed the cost of improvements;
  • PACE is an attractive financial instrument to private finance, private equity, pensions, life insurance and other finance companies to fund, since it’s a government secured lien which receives priority in repayment in the event of owner default; and
  • PACE project financing comes from private investors, therefore eliminating the complex bonding scenarios that are both burdensome and expensive for government to run. PACE does not use taxpayer money to setup or run in Michigan!

how-it-worksPACE is an innovation that combines the flexibility of private financing with the assurance of payment through government participation. It covers 100% of improvement costs through a long-term property tax assessment, instead of burdening the property owner with a short-term commercial loan. This allows the owner to cash flow the improvement costs during the financing term, as savings are greater than the cost of the improvements.

Suitable Projects for Financing

A PACE Project can include any energy conservation measure that reduces either energy or water. If it can be calculated is can be a PACE financed building item. Some of the most popular PACE financed building systems include: Commercial Boilers, Lighting Retrofits, Windows, Roofs, Building Systems and Controls, HVAC Systems, Cooling Towers and Chillers, Elevators, Escalators, Fume Hoods, Refrigeration, Solar, Geothermal and Irrigation. Bio-digesters and incinerators are the only EXCLUDED items from the statute. PACE transactions can also include almost any property type.


Qualifying Organizations

The following types of facilities can benefit from PACE, including: Large and Small Commercial Properties, Non-Profit Buildings, Multi-Family, Industrial Buildings, Warehouses, Hospitality, Private Schools and Colleges, Retail Centers and Shopping Malls, Hospitals, Restaurants, Houses of Worship, Low Income Housing, Mixed Use Projects and Recreational Facilities or Resorts. Literally any project or property that IS NOT a Government owned building or considered a residence qualifies as a PACE Project.

Nationwide Momentum

Other states are having great success rolling out Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) financing to their communities. Most economic development professionals see PACE as another viable tool in the toolkit for economic growth and development where the local government has no financial commitment other than to support their local businesses and nonprofits with a great resource funded by private capital.

A Win-Win For All

Investing in development creates a win-win situations for the economy, citizens and all stakeholders alike. Building improvements reduce operational costs and enhances appeal, thus driving further investment, growth and job creation while creating an attractive climate for both business and individuals. With that in mind, why wait? Take the steps to access PACE financing for your project today!

Additional Resources: www.pacenow.org; www.LeanandGreenMI.com


Michigan Benefits Access Overview

Written by Beth St. John, Coordinator, Michigan Benefits Access

Michigan Benefits Access (MBA) exists to increase economic stability for Michigan families by connecting them to multiple public benefits through the MI Bridges website and Community Partners. The Michigan Association of United Ways collaborates closely with the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) through MBA to support a collaborative network of non-profit organizations throughout the state.  These organizations are called MI Bridges Community Partners. They partner with MDHHS to assist clients with using the MI Bridges online system to apply for public benefits. These benefits include: food assistance, state emergency relief, health care coverage, child development and care, and cash assistance. To find the MI Bridges Community Partners in your area, please see the MBA Web Site’s Find Help Near You Tool.

Organizations that are interested in becoming a MI Bridges Community Partner can apply with MDHHS at any time. There are two ways organizations can become involved: Access or Navigation Partner. Access Partners provide computers for clients to access MI Bridges and complete applications independently. Navigation Partners provide computers for MI Bridges access and provide technical and one-on-one navigation assistance to clients as necessary. For more information and the application materials, please see the MBA Web Site’s Become a Partner page.

To support the work of Community Partners, the Michigan Association of United Ways collaborates with MDHHS to provide:

  • A 3-hour, in-person MBA/MI Bridges Training to Navigation Partners (To learn more and see our upcoming training events, please visit the MBA Web Site’s Training Page)
  • Access to the MBA Web Site’s For Organizations page, which includes the following assistance resources: Client Handouts, Assister Tip Sheets, Promotional Materials, and information on the MDHHS benefits available through MI Bridges
  • Ongoing communication and technical assistance to enhance Community Partner effectiveness

We look forward to sharing more information about Michigan Benefits Access during the Connect & Share Webinar on Friday, September 18! Register for the free webinar here. If you have any questions about MBA prior to this event, please visit the MBA Web Site or contact Beth St. John, MBA Coordinator at bstjohn@uwmich.org or 517.664.9809.

Partners for Rural America

By Jessica AcMoody, Senior Policy Specialist

I recently had the opportunity to travel to the Shenandoah Valley in Virginia for the Partners for Rural America (PRA) annual conference and meeting. The conference highlights rural economic development around the country, and gives members of PRA an opportunity to share exciting rural development going on in their state as well as learn what is happening regionally and federally with government programs aimed at rural communities.

Partners for Rural America was formed to support the efforts of State Rural Development Councils (SRDCs) which are positioned to expand economic and social opportunities for America’s rural communities and their residents, promote equal treatment of rural America by government agencies and the private sector, and to provide a collective voice for rural America. 

White Oaks Lavender Farm

White Oaks Lavender Farm

Along with members of SRDCs in numerous states, attendees included representatives from USDA Rural Development (including the Deputy Under Secretary for Policy, Rural Development), and elected officials and department heads from the state of Virginia. Sessions included a presentation on community assessments, rural policy coordination, national trends and research initiatives and council collaborations and future development. I was able to present on the community assessment process in Michigan, and bring back ideas on improving our assessments. The second day of the conference was a tour of economic drivers of the Shenandoah Valley. 

Route 11 Potato Chip Factory

Route 11 Potato Chip Factory

The tour highlighted the various ways rural development is advancing the economy of Virginia. The tour included stops at small businesses, agro-tourism businesses such as the White Oak Lavender Farm, the Blue Ridge Community College’s Advanced Technology Center, and the American Shakespeare Center Blackfriars Playhouse. While on the tour we were able to speak with the business owners and managers and learn about the unique challenges and opportunities of operating rural businesses and training centers. We also learned how the community college was working in partnership with local manufacturers to create  special training courses for their rural residents.

Blue Ridge Community College’s Advanced Technology Center

Blue Ridge Community College’s Advanced Technology Center

It was inspiring to see the innovative ways that rural areas across the nation are finding to drive economies, increase wealth of rural areas and improve the lives of rural residents. I hope to lead the Michigan Rural Council in building on the ideas and innovations that I brought back to Michigan from the conference to help revitalize and enhance our rural communities.

Children’s Savings Accounts to Kickstart Education

Financial empowerment is a game changer.

From adults struggling to get ahead to children just beginning to save, financial capability programs can help people of all ages reach greater self-sufficiency and the freedom to live rather than simply survive.

Growing implications.

Lack of financial capability is widespread in the U.S. today, from generational struggles passed on, to middle income earners facing job loss and unexpected challenges. As the financial marketplace becomes increasing complicated and living wage employment increasingly hard to come by, people need help navigating a complex new economy.

Changing the Course

Financial empowerment initiatives are taking place across Michigan through partnerships with nonprofits and municipalities. Rather than using a bandaid as a temporary solution, these initiatives target the root cause of need in our communities – financial instability.

Momentum is building around programmatic additions and changes to nonprofit organizations, including greater partnerships with municipalities like Financial Empowerment Centers. There are currently four centers across Michigan providing free, one-on-one, professional financial counseling to educate people on savings, debt reduction, credit repair and banking.

Other Michigan communities are working to learn more and are starting to consider strategies for their own residents.

Early in August, the Michigan Communities for Financial Empowerment, a program of CEDAM, hosted the 2nd Annual Financial Empowerment Summit, bringing together industry leaders and those interested in learning together to share best practices, ideas and methodology. The primary focus of this year’s Summit was Children’s Savings Accounts.

csa-graphicStarting Financial Education and Savings Young

One of the best things we can do to tackle financial instability in our communities is to invest in children when they are young and give them the tools to be self-sufficient right away. Earlier in 2015, Lansing launched Lansing SAVE, the first all-inclusive children’s savings account program in Michigan, and soon Barry County will launch Kickstart to Career. These programs automatically open savings accounts for children with seed money to initiate the process of saving money for college and other post-secondary training options.

Municipalities and Organizations Leading the Way

Statistics show that youth that have a designated account for college are more likely to attend higher education even in low amounts (between $1-$499). Further, low-income students with a college savings account are four times more likely to graduate from college than students without accounts.

From San Francisco to New England, leaders in the financial empowerment field have recognized the potential implications for their communities through investment in child savings. The City and County of San Francisco established the first universal, automatic children’s savings account program Kindergarten to College and is helping to share best practices with others, like Barry Community Foundation to craft their own program that will work for their needs.

Beyond The Basics

The notion of program or service of any kind creates a lot of questions. Who funds it? How will we engage users and inspire investment? Leaders from CFED, the City of Lansing, the CFPB, the San Francisco Office of Financial Empowerment and many others highlighted their experience and their ideas, but the truth is that these programs are investments. We won’t see the real return for another 20 or so years when these initial programs come to fruition.

Data from San Francisco show that even low income parents are contributing to CSAs. Private savings show that parents are utilizing the help that was given to them to empower their child and teach them good financial practices at an early age. Incentives, when available, help them to save even more. CFED launched the 1:1 Fund to help programs raise money for savings matches and incentives. As the children’s savings field develops, great attention is being paid to what incentives work to ensure strong private savings rates by children and their families.

Expanding Technology

While traditional accounts offer electronic transfer and middle income earners often have access to direct deposit, children’s savings programs must consider the needs of lower income, unbanked families and their technical barriers. We must also consider the possibility of family and friends interested in contributing and streamlining this process. Chris Duffus, with LEAF College Savings, identified some of these technological barriers and created college savings gift cards, making it easy for people to contribute to any child’s college savings account.

What’s Next?

As technology advances and other people start their own programs and financial empowerment initiatives, the future holds much possibility. Will it be less likely that a child will live in poverty through their adult life? Will children accessing savings accounts at a young age become self-sufficient and set the course of their own future?

The Michigan Financial Empowerment Summit brought together leaders from across Michigan and across the country invested in the notion that the answer to these questions is yes. Beneficiaries of Children’s Savings Account programs get the added bonus of saving toward their goals from a very young age. Could this be the difference that changes the game, giving kids have a real shot at fulfilling their dreams?

Though they’re just about to enter first grade, Michigan’s first class of community-wide college savers in Lansing are already thinking about their goals beyond high school. Congratulations class of 2031!


State Farm 2012 transparent

CEDAM would like to thank Sponsor State Farm for supporting financial empowerment training and other financial empowerment initiatives in Michigan.


#Comebackcity: How Clean Energy can Revitalize a City, State

This blog is a guest blog written by Ariana Gonzalez with the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC). It was originally posted here

Go ahead. Call it a comeback.

Governor Snyder and others have been touting how Michigan cities like Detroit are surging forward like never before. The recent grand opening of the new Outdoor Adventure Center in a Detroit building formerly vacant for twenty years is just one example of the city’s rebirth. But, don’t think this growth is just contained to in-state revamps. It’s also extending to new businesses like Shinola and GalaxESolutions who are finding reasons to set up shop in town.

Old Globe Building.jpg

Former Globe Building. Globe Building Interior Transformation into the Outdoor Adventure Center” by Michigan DNR is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

The New York Times recently chronicled a similar story of revitalization occurring in Buffalo where the wind and solar industry are attracting companies like SolarCity, BQ Energy (a renewable-energy developer), and the renewables-friendly Yahoo. With the prospect of good clean energy jobs, a flood of people, many youth returning home, are gravitating to Buffalo. The message is clear: companies and individuals alike see the promise of a city increasingly embracing clean energy.

Over the years, Detroit’s population has become more known for mass exoduses than influxes. But, that story could be put firmly in the past. With smart energy policy in Michigan, Detroit could follow in Buffalo’s footsteps: becoming a hub of solar, wind, and other renewables that continues to feed the city’s renaissance.

In New York, it’s clear that the enlightened Reforming the Energy Vision (REV) process has been an important back drop in advancing this new dawn of clean energy development. The goal of the “energy modernization” initiative is to build a bridge to a cleaner, more efficient, and affordable energy system which will help protect the environment, lower energy costs, and create opportunity for economic growth. Sounds a lot like all the goals and ambitions Governor Snyder outlined, but with the enforceable policy process to back it up.

The final, historic rule limiting carbon pollution from power plants is likely to come out next week and at this critical juncture between state and federal energy policy, Michigan needs to commit and put some teeth in its legislation. As currently proposed, however, the bills on the table look to do just the opposite. HB 4297, SB 437, and SB 438 will paralyze Michigan’s ability to provide affordable, reliable, and clean energy to the state while boosting the economy. The following are five ways to most critically improve the recently introduced Senate Bills, though this list is by no means exhaustive.

  1. Maintain and increase, based on cost-effective potential, the energy optimization standard (EOS) and renewable portfolio standard (RPS) for electric utilities. Setting a minimum energy efficiency/waste reduction goal, with incentives for utilities that capture cost-effective savings beyond the targeted amount has been enforceable and effective in Michigan, and many other states, and sends an important signal to markets that still have barriers for these resources.
  2. Eliminate artificial caps on the budgets for energy efficiency as long the utility efficiency portfolio is, on the whole, cost-effective. The spending cap limits a utility’s ability to take full advantage of energy efficiency’s potential–a limitation that is absent for every other resource.
  3. Properly value energy efficiency and renewable energy. Consideration in the integrated resource planning (IRP) process is undermined by assigning no value at all to environmental benefits that extend beyond minimal compliance with federal regulations and requiring resources to compete mostly on the basis of their value as a capacity resource – rather than on the basis of all costs of generating, transmitting and delivering electricity.
    1. Require the Integrated Resource Planning (IRP) policy to have utilities include all of the cost-effective potential for energy savings in their plans before the utility is able to invest in supply side resources.
    2. Include the words “symmetrical” and “true-up”in the language clarifying the Commission’s authority to approve proposals to decoupling utility revenues from electricity sales. This ensures that utility financial health is not dependent on energy sales, but on service as a whole.
    3. Remove, do not create, barriers for customers who want to install energy systems (net metering) so that they can be appropriately compensated for electricity and other benefits their systems provide to the grid (while paying appropriately for their own use of the grid).

We know what works for Michigan. We know what builds the economy, lowers energy bills, protects the environment and reliably provides energy. And, it’s echoed in cities like Buffalo. Now is not the time to walk away from that. As currently proposed, the bills would eliminate mechanisms for accountability (EOS and RES) in the pursuit of a new and ambiguous pathway where everything rests on an IRP with no guarantee. Let’s get Michigan’s leaders to recognize this and build on our current success, not dismantle it.

Additional Resources:

Check out CEDAM’s Resource Library and download the Michigan Energy Efficiency Incentive Programs for Multifamily Affordable Housing list.

Welcome Home

By Lisa Assenmacher, Communications & Training Specialist

522. This is the number of families in the Detroit area that have fallen into homelessness and have since found furnished housing since 2009 with the assistance of Humble Design, a nonprofit organization based in Pontiac.

I listened to Treger Strasberg, one of the founders, talk about her work at the Building Michigan Communities Conference in April, and it made me think about CEDAM’s membership with the gamut of supportive housing- and community-related programs intertwined with empathy, education and support to advance self-sufficiency and empowerment. I’m always amazed when I discover how these pieces of the puzzle relate and work together for something much more impactful.

What must it be like to be homeless?

The harsh reality of life exposes us to illness, adversity and challenges that change the way we empathize with one another and interpret the world. Without having either experienced it personally or indirectly through those we meet, it’s not quite understood just how vulnerable, insecure, scared, hungry or lonely a person’s existence feels for them. Vulnerable populations often lack support to prevent a crisis from devastating their lives, and often rely upon themselves.

Beyond survival, it is unlikely that a homeless person even considers any type of luxury a possibility, and it is very likely that they may not understand how to plan for any next step to protect a repeat of this experience.

It’s an exhausting cycle of poverty that plagues millions of Americans.

Even after a person has found a place to live, the struggle continues.

Homelessness and access to affordable housing are consistent problems in Michigan. State and federal programs are continually at risk and the decreasing available funds are more difficult to obtain. The bigger picture understands that helping people transition into safe and affordable housing is the primary priority.

However, what are we doing to help build a sense of place and stability and keep people in those homes once they have found them?

What will end the cycle of homeless?

Organizations across Michigan have created inventive programs to empower people and assert them into the lives they want to lead rather cycling through this endless struggle and feelings of desperation. These programs address the concept of change through education and ongoing support and include skill development, mental health programs, financial literacy and others.

Further, establishing a sense of place and security only begins with a roof over their head. Furniture and other details together create a home and help to form a psychological connection with a place along with feelings of ownership, reliability and commitment.

Imagine if you and your family were living in an empty home, sleeping on the bare floor. It’s the type of situation most of us don’t even think about.

Families transitioning from homelessness into housing often move in with just their selves and lack anything other than basic furniture or possessions to create a comfortable home.

Now imagine the child’s sense of security, stability and safety, and consider the parent(s) perspective on trying to both make ends meet and be the anchor that the family needs. Many times, there just aren’t enough resources for everything to work out.

The imbalance between what is feasible and what is required continues to grow, heightening the feelings of hopelessness and disconnection for filling the voids. And, in these vulnerable situations, all it takes is one crisis for the pieces to fall.

That’s where all of the wonderful organizations, funders and volunteers come in.

With the identification and integration of these programs implemented across the state, these overlooked aspects can help add to the support network that will keep people in their homes and become self-sufficient and successful.

One such organization is Humble Design.

Screen Shot 2015-08-06 at 1.59.40 PMSharing a similar story to many who start an initiative, a friend struggling with a problem and an opportunity to help changed the way founders Ana Smith and Treger Strasberg looked at unneeded furniture.

Screen Shot 2015-08-06 at 1.06.34 PM

Humble Design Founders Treger Strasberg and Ana Smith

It provided insight into understanding the real conditions faced by those transitioning from homelessness. They also saw the positive psychological effects related to the perception of moving into their new home rather than a space that feels temporary, cold and insecure.

From that point on, Humble Design was born and has grown into a fully functioning nonprofit organization with a flowing supply chain process implemented by staff, volunteers and funders. They formed partnerships with affordable housing and social services organizations to get referrals for families ready to transition. Beyond collecting and storing furniture, the designers at Humble Design carefully coordinates homes for each family and sets it up for them.

522 families have benefited from the work done by Humble Design at the time of this article. Some of them are children receiving their own bed for the first time. Others are simply relieved they don’t have to think about yet another thing that’s out of reach. While every story is different, each one was grateful for the support and sees this as an opportunity for a new life.

Every person stands the chance to break their cycle of insecurity and instability because of the supportive programs that exist to provide education and empowerment.

The next time you drive past furniture on a curb, think about how something seemingly so insignificant can change a person’s perception and direction of their life.

Voices of AmeriCorps: Betsy Quakenbush


MFPC-Member12Though my AmeriCorps time has been full of file keeping and database entry activities, the things I will remember more are the life stories I have heard; I have a whole file cabinet in the corner of my brain with the label “Crazy life stories.” This cabinet has slowly been filling up with the stories I have heard, and continue to hear, as I meet with foreclosure prevention clients at ICCF; it continues to be a very interesting time. I hear all sorts of stories and listen to people tell me things that are sometimes hard to hear and sometimes hard to process. Some days, I can listen to the stories, file them away in that cabinet in my brain, and continue to go about my day. But sometimes, I have to leave the file open on the desk right next to the cabinet, unable to file it away quite yet. I have to spend some time processing what I have heard and trying to make some sense of it before I file it away.

One client’s story in particular from this past quarter of my AmeriCorps time was like that. We’ll call this client Kelly. Kelly had been referred to me and called me one afternoon. I answered. Her taxes were behind on her house and she was looking for help-a very normal start to a triage and intake conversation, but the conversation quickly dove into a deeper retelling of Kelly’s life story.

Kelly told me about the deep depression she had been stuck in for a number of years- the onset caused by her mother’s death. Kelly had been able to keep her job the entire duration of her depression, but that was all she was able to do. She got up, went to work, came home, and went to bed. She did not realize how low she actually was. This went on for years, when finally Kelly decided to go to the doctor to see if anything could be done. The doctor prescribed some antidepressant medication right away. Kelly asked the doctor, “Well, doesn’t everyone’s mother die?” The doctor answered, “Yes.” Kelly replied, “So is the whole world on antidepressants?” The doctor replied, “Yes.” This was not a satisfying answer to Kelly. She refused the antidepressants. There had to be another way.

Since that visit, Kelly’s life has really been on the upward climb. She is going to school and getting a college degree, still working her steady job, and also encouraging others to let their mothers know how much they love them. Kelly not only experienced a recent change in attitude towards life, but also towards our housing counseling. She did not want to write her hardship letter when she first came into our office, as she knew it would bring up all of her hard emotions all over again, but by the time she was done meeting with our housing counselor, she was willing to write one. She slowly began to relax and allow the counselor to try and help her with her situation. Kelly is still working with our housing counselor, and though the outcome of her situation is unsure, trust has been built and Kelly experienced a drastic change of attitude.

My own mother lives in the Philippines, just about as far away as you can get from where I live, here in Grand Rapids. After that first conversation on the phone with Kelly, I knew I had to write an email to my mom to tell her I loved her. I did.

Betsy Quakenbush is an AmeriCorps member at Inner City Christian Federation in Grand Rapids.

This post is part of a blog series highlighting the viewpoints of Michigan AmeriCorps Foreclosure Prevention Corps members serving at different foreclosure host sites around Michigan. View information about the program or see more stories in this series.