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Focus: HOPE 

MLaw students lend a hand to Focus: HOPE

By John Masson
July 20, 2012

Michigan Law students are part of an innovative partnership between the University of Michigan and a key Detroit community organization: Focus: HOPE. The project is designed to radically change the odds of success for neighborhoods, children, and families.

The work is among six separate projects being funded by U-M's Graham Sustainability Institute. The grants of between $25,000 and $30,000, run through 2013.

The Law School portion of the project, coordinated by Prof. Alicia Alvarez of the Community and Economic Development Clinic, has students working closely with venerable Detroit community group Focus: HOPE to help advance the HOPE Village Initiative, a 100-block area surrounding the Focus: HOPE campus, part of which straddles the cities of Highland Park and Detroit.

Among the law students' tasks has been working on an innovative new housing development concept that will make up part of HOPE Village, said initiative director Debbie Fisher. Alvarez said she's proud of the work done on the project so far by 3Ls Joe Clementz and Miles Fuller.

"It's a fairly massive undertaking," Alvarez said. "We're working on financing and structuring of a possible housing cooperative," while 3Ls Elizabeth Daligga and Renita Khanduja, working closely with Clinical Fellow Priya Baskaran, '08, explore the area's options for green space.

The law students will work collaboratively with planning and architecture students, Alvarez said.

Focus: HOPE is partnering with various agencies and businesses, as well as with U-M, in the efforts. The organization's goal is to have every resident in the area well prepared educationally, economically self-sufficient, and living in a safe and supportive environment by 2031.

But it's a tall order. At present, the neighborhood is marred by vacant lots, boarded-up and abandoned housing, and further devastation caused when a tornado touched down in 1997 and resulted in tens of millions of dollars in damage.

Things have gotten better within the last few years, however. A new, 55-unit apartment complex for low-income seniors opened in 2007, and Lutheran Child and Family Service of Michigan has opened a 24-unit apartment building for low-income families, including young adults who have aged out of the foster care system. Another group is renovating an 11-story building that used to belong to Michigan Bell, with the aim of housing offices and 155 apartments for formerly homeless people.

With the help of students from the Law School, Focus: HOPE officials said, those kinds of good works can go forward.

"The knowledge they've brought to this initiative has proved valuable in helping us take the next step to change lives and revitalize this area," said Focus: HOPE CEO William F. Jones, Jr. "These student attorneys are bringing expertise that is helping us at a critical stage in our community redevelopment efforts. They are putting us several steps closer to our goal of transforming this neighborhood and building a safe and supportive environment for those who live here."

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