Detroit Regional Chamber > Detroiter Magazine > Gilbert Family Foundation: Creating Equity and Opportunity

Gilbert Family Foundation: Creating Equity and Opportunity

May 28, 2024 Karen Dybis

Karen Dybis | Freelance Reporter

Gilbert Family Foundation’s Holistic Approach to Detroit Philanthropy Nearing 10th Anniversary

As the Gilbert Family Foundation approaches its 10th anniversary in 2025, its leaders are proud of its holistic approach toward helping fix Detroit’s broken systems, and giving the city and its residents the stability needed for the work ahead.

The foundation’s investments in key areas – housing, job growth, business development and the arts – serve to wrap around Detroiters like a blanket of support, says Detroit native Darnell Adams, who serves as the foundation’s Vice President, Detroit Community Initiatives. These programs are aimed at the foundation’s north star: Creating data-driven solutions so Detroiters can participate in the city’s resurgence.

“It’s about giving people a second chance, and that’s the definition of equity and opportunity to me. We’re reaching where others won’t reach in terms of programs and investments,” Adams said. “It’s a holistic stabilization strategy that starts with a safe home, then better jobs, and then amenities that make people proud to be a part of this community.”

Dan and Jennifer Gilbert at last year’s announcement of the Shirley Ryan AbilityLab and Nick Gilbert Neurofibromatosis Research Institute.

“Everyone deserves to achieve the American dream of homeownership, and that includes the ability to sustainably and permanently enjoy the home you make for yourself, your family and your loved ones. The greatest resource of any community is its people, and we are honored to be able to invest in removing this tax burden, which will build a stronger foundation for Detroit families to thrive.”

Dan Gilbert, Co-founder, Gilbert Family Foundation

The biggest part of the foundation and Adams’ efforts are on renter help and homeownership support, areas where Adams says they need input and help from policy experts, government officials, and business owners.

“We recognize there’s a lot of power in demystifying Detroit’s economy. So, if we can prioritize industries that offer better paying jobs and establishing workforce development programs that attract those industries, we can get the city’s median income up,” Adams said.

Mayor Mike Duggan at the announcement for the Gilbert Family Foundation’s investment supporting the Detroit Housing Network, and the city’s launch of the Detroit Housing HelpLine.

Mayor Mike Duggan at the announcement for the Gilbert Family Foundation’s investment supporting the Detroit Housing Network, and the city’s launch of the Detroit Housing HelpLine.

For example, an initial $15-million foundation investment eliminated property-tax debt owed by an estimated 20,000 low-income Detroit homeowners. This alone preserved an estimated $400 million in wealth and home equity in the city, foundation officials say. Now, these homeowners are eligible for other city and state programs to help maintain their homes.

There also are unique funding opportunities that turn Detroit into a magnet for innovation. There’s the Pensole Lewis College Detroit, which the foundation funded with $10 million over five years to give Detroiters pathways to jobs in high-demand industries such as design. There’s also the foundation’s $1.5 million investment in the Seed and Bloom initiative to support BIPOC Detroit artists and grow the arts and art organizations within the city’s neighborhoods.

“What’s unique about us is the cohort of people we’re helping – whether it is funding the founding of the Pensole Lewis College Detroit or the Apple Developer Academy, we’re working with Detroit’s most economically vulnerable residents to stabilize and then wrap around them with these services and programs,” Adams said.

It’s a philanthropic approach that Dan and Jennifer Gilbert established when he moved Quicken Loans to Detroit in 2010. The couple established the Gilbert Family Foundation in 2015 in part to raise funds for medical research – their son, Nick, lived with neurofibromatosis before his death in May 2023 – but also to build equity and opportunity for Detroit residents.

Ultimately, Adams says the foundation seeks to challenge conventional thinking. By asking different questions and funding innovative programs, they believe Detroit will prosper.

“We’re doing something that no other foundation in the state of Michigan is doing,” Adams said. “It’s heavy. It’s hard. But we’re doing it.”