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City Love: LISC leader says long-time Detroit residents are an integral component of future neighborhood growth

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Sharing a home with ten people came with challenges.

But, for Tahirih Ziegler and her siblings, the issues were often more critical than sharing bathrooms or finding privacy. The eldest of eight, Ziegler remembers bouncing around rental properties in western Michigan as her parents faced affordability challenges.

Though both parents were professionally employed, her dad’s commission-based pay slid on a scale.

“Depending on their income, at any time, because sales can fluctuate and having such a growing family, we actually moved 13 times,” she recalls.

Tahirih Ziegler

Tahirih Ziegler

By the time she turned 18 Ziegler’s parents had become homeowners. Still, the experience of frequently moving between Kalamazoo and Battle Creek helped shape her current passion for supporting affordable housing in Detroit neighborhoods. Having returned to her birthplace in 2010 when she was named executive director of Detroit Local Initiatives Support Corp. (LISC), Ziegler leads one of the 31-city non-profit’s key offices.

She has worked as a LISC program officer and then executive director of Michigan LISC, overseeing the program’s community development efforts in Grand Rapids, Flint, Lansing and Pontiac, among other communities. Today her staff occupies a 16th floor suite in the heart of downtown, tasked with helping to lead a corporate investment campaign to recharge Detroit.

“I’m really coming back to Detroit as a daughter of the city,” Ziegler tells TheHUB.

As a project manager and director of housing and neighborhood programs around the state, she cut her teeth in various aspects of community development, all the while grooming for the eventual challenge to secure resources for Detroit, which relatives on both sides of her family still call home.

In a city that reportedly accumulated more foreclosed homes in the past 10 years than the total number of houses in Buffalo, Detroit LISC committed to invest $50 million between 2014 and 2016. Ziegler says it will exceed that amount by year’s end.

“We provide resources for neighbors and residents to realize what they envision. We call these ‘quality of life’ plans,” she says. “It’s a different process than what other community financial institutions implement because it’s resident-driven, it’s inclusive, and it’s comprehensive.”

LISC presently concentrates its efforts in Grand Woodward (commonly known as the North End), Springwells Village, Grandmont Rosedale, Corktown and Osborn areas. It collaborates with community development corporations, neighborhood agencies and programs to secure lending from a deep well of financial resources, nationally.

Among other recent efforts, in 2014 LISC funneled $13.4 million into creating 107 affordable housing units and 103,870 square feet of space for business and community use, according to an annual report.

Additionally, in 2015 LISC invested in the Orleans Landing mixed-use development on Detroit’s near-east side, along with putting $5 million in new market tax credits into construction of the M1 Rail to support downtown revitalization, a departure from traditional, non-transit-related investment.

Tahirih Ziegler compressed

Scott Benson, City Council District 3, and Tahirih Ziegler at the ribbon cutting for Stafford Football Field at Lipke Park last October

But despite the influence and backing of LISC’s New York headquarters and access to national experts and funders throughout the country, Ziegler’s under no illusion her staff can single-handedly rescue Detroit neighborhoods from crisis-level challenges. She says she’s particularly impressed by the community investment leadership shown in the local philanthropic community, including the Skillman, Kellogg and Kresge Foundations that are working together to leverage resources and deploy necessary strategies for neighborhoods , she says.

Another challenge to Detroit LISC is generating opportunities to help residents who weathered the past decade’s nationwide housing crisis and keep them from leaving the city. Auto and house insurance rates and related issues are barriers to home ownership in Detroit among single families, so affordable rent dwellings deserve exploration as alternatives, says Ziegler.

“There are these large issues to scale in ways we never thought about before.”

Supporters of LISC’s work give Ziegler high marks for contributing to solutions. Wendy L. Jackson, deputy director of the Kresge Foundation’s Detroit Program, praises the executive director for what LISC calls “place-based investment” in LISC’s “sustainable communities.” They are Grand Woodward, Springwells, Grandmont Rosedale, Corktown and Osborn.

Corktown is one of LISC’s “sustainable communities"

Corktown is one of LISC’s “sustainable communities”

“When it comes to strengthening Detroit neighborhoods, Tahirih is a driving force,” Jackson says. “Through her leadership at Detroit LISC, she has been a dynamic advocate for neighborhood revitalization, and instrumental in the organization’s steady growth.”

Jackson says the Sustainable Communities program deserves special attention. It has “provided critical guidance to connect Detroit neighborhoods with much-needed resources and technical assistance.”

As an African-American woman at the helm of one of 16 local community financial institutions, Ziegler doesn’t fit common business profiles perhaps contributing to her sensitivity toward marginalized Detroiters, including seniors and military veterans.

“It’s important that we address the potential resident displacement issue with the increase of market rate private housing developments. We will have to be smart about our approach so long-time city residents’ aren’t pushed out by rising property values and rents,” Ziegler says.

“Everyone wants to live in neighborhoods that have amenities,” Ziegler says, “and that includes people across all economic backgrounds.

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