Sweet Home Detroit
CommunityNEXT’s Live Detroit Fund helps attract young change makers to the city.
In an effort to bring Detroit’s young people back to the city, CommunityNEXT, a department of the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Detroit, is administering a rent subsidy program called the Live Detroit Fund (LDF).
The LDF was funded by the Do It For Detroit campaign of August 2011, organized by CommunityNEXT, which raised $100,000 via fundraising events, social media campaigns and charity sports tournaments that took place in Chicago, Detroit, New York City and Los Angeles.
Recipients of the fund receive $250 per month toward their rent, as long as they host a monthly event to build community in Detroit. As of press time, 14 people had been awarded LDF subsidies, and there are enough funds for 11 more.
“This program has been highly successful by the fact that we’ve had so many people interested,” said Rachel Lachover, associate director of CommunityNEXT. “I believe this incentive was one of the last pieces of the puzzle to get people interested in going and living Downtown. Once people see what’s going on in Detroit with the economic and cultural growth, they want to be a part of it.”
While recipients of the LDF do not have to be Jewish, Lachover has noticed it has started to “strengthen the Jewish presence and community Downtown, which is such a great effect of the program.”
Meet Some LDF Recipients
My assignment was to attend the Motor City Moishe House’s annual summer barbeque and track down recipients of the LDF, some of whom partnered with Moishe House to host the event.
This was my first visit to Moishe House, and I really did not know what to expect. The house is gorgeous, and the backyard was set up with tents, games and tables, and everyone there was friendly and fun to talk to.
In an odd stroke of luck, the first person I asked was an LDF recipient. Meg Pouncy, who moved back home from Pennsylvania, is very interested in the arts and how they can positively affect Detroiters.
“I applied for the LDF because I wanted to be a bigger part of the rebirth and rebuild of the city,” she said, “and I felt this was a great opportunity to do that in a collective way.”
Pouncy works in the design field and plans to focus her monthly events on the arts. “I believe art is a strong way to communicate ideas and stories between students in the city.”
My next find was Ryan Landau, 23, who received his LDF in February along with his roommate, Jacob Smith. Together, the duo has hosted a slew of events ranging from a bar crawl to a pool party to a
Michigan beer tasting. Landau lived in Washington, D.C., and worked for IBM before moving back home. “The fund was a good push for me to come back to the city,” he said, “and I love being back here. It’s amazing. You’re a big fish in a small pond, and I really feel that you can make a difference here.”
Smith, an entrepreneur who co-founded Go Green Energy Consulting in Southfield, loves the energy in Detroit. “There are lots of things to do every night, and people are so passionate about the city, and their momentum just keeps carrying over into different areas,” he said. “I applied for an LDF [subsidy] because I wanted to be a part of the rebuilding of Detroit. I’m very excited about what’s going on in the city right now.”
Next up, LDF recipient Jenile Brooks, who also moved back home from Washington, D.C, echoed Smith’s excitement. “Before I heard about the LDF, I was already considering moving back here,” she said, “and now that I’m back I’ve been able to experience Detroit as an adult, and I love it.”
She is working on opening an online grocery delivery store called Harvest Express, which she hopes will be up and running by August. Brooks wants to host a supper club for one of her events, and she has also been working with Josh Gershonowicz, a resident of Moishe House, to plan a bike tour of the city. “I’m very excited about making
other people understand how awesome it is to live here,” she said.
In September, Vadim Avshalumov, 27, will move Downtown as a result of the LDF. He lived in Ann Arbor but is moving to the city for a job with Quicken as one of its Challenge Detroit participants.
“I have studied downtown revitalization in academic and professional venues,” he explained, “and I am very excited to complete the perspective with an intimate experience by living here.”
He is personally invested in working with the Jewish community and plans to host events centered on that interest — such as monthly Shabbat meals.
“I see this as an opportunity to help fulfill anyone’s Jewish needs who wants it,” Avshalumov said.
Ben Friedman, who moved to lower Midtown in February, was involved last August with Pitch for Detroit, a main fundraising event for LDF. (This year’s Pitch for Detroit event is planned for Aug. 26.)
“I’ve been pretty involved from the get-go,” he said, “and the community I have connected with is incredible.”
Friedman said the fund has been very successful. “We had a meeting with all of the recipients so far, and it was a very diverse group whose common interest is Detroit. It’s clear we all have a strong drive to help this city move forward.”
Last month, he and another participant joined forces to clean up a block on Woodward Avenue and plant flowers there. “I like connecting my events with other events going on, so I’ll host a dinner or brunch that takes place before another event in the city,” he explained.
Though not an LDF recipient, Erik Wodowski, 23, of West Bloomfield, is moving to Moishe House in August. Wodowski is very involved with the Isaac Agree Downtown Synagogue, which is how he
first heard of Moishe House. “I think it’s a great opportunity to get to know Detroit better and create a community,” he said. “I used to go into the city just for special events but that has changed immensely. I love coming down here and seeing the changes that are happening.”
Residents of Moishe House get subsidized rents; the amount
depends on how many events
Josh Gershonowicz, who has lived there for a year, says living in Detroit is amazing.
“I’m always meeting new people, having different experiences. It’s a great environment to be in,” he said. His favorite event was a bike tour of the city and, later this month, he is hosting another one in partnership with LDF recipient Brooks.
The changes one sees in Detroit are the result of a huge movement to bring people back to the city, and judging from the community I witnessed at Moishe House, they are not just superficial — these new Detroiters are here to stay and continue building their community.
To apply or learn more, visit www.livedetroitfund.org. Applicants must be at least 21 years old. The LDF is open to any Next Generation leader. If LDF events are open to the public, information will be posted on CommunityNEXT’s Facebook page and sent in an email to its listserv; sign up at www.communitynxt.com.
By Marielle Temkin, JN Intern