DNEP Partner Profile: Jefferson East Inc. fosters growth in five neighborhoods

October 18, 2023

The nonprofit organization Jefferson East Inc. grew out of a grassroots effort in the early 1990s to bring retail development to Detroit's Jefferson-Chalmers neighborhood. 

The organization is still working today to support residents and businesses, but on a much broader scale. 

Jefferson East Inc. now represents five distinct neighborhoods—Jefferson-Chalmers, the Marina District, the Villages of Detroit, Rivertown and Lafayette & Elmwood Park—along the East Jefferson corridor, where it fosters new development and opportunities for residents through inclusive, collaborative partnerships. About 42,200 people live in the 18.4 square miles it serves. 

At the heart of the organization is CEO Joshua Elling, who has been with Jefferson East for 17 years. He is passionate about fostering equitable, inclusive development and making sure residents are able to benefit from the growth in their neighborhoods. 

Tell us about Jefferson East Inc. and how it serves the community.

We have been looking to drive inclusive and resilient development in the East Jefferson corridor since 1994 through a range of programming. Our resilient homes program focuses on helping residents make home repairs and build financial literacy around home ownership. We have a resilient families approach that includes housing counseling and helps ensure residents are able to maintain and stay in their homes. We also have a resilient business program, and a resilient neighborhoods strategy. All of those come together to drive economic development and community development. 

We have a development arm, East Jefferson Development Corp. It's a for-profit subsidiary of the nonprofit that ensures any development benefits all residents and business owners.

What is some of the work you've done in partnership with U-M? 

We have a long history of working with the University of Michigan. When we were founded in 1994 (as the Jefferson East Business Association), a U-M legal clinic handled the bylaws and the nonprofit foundation work. 

More recently, we worked in partnership with U-M's Detroit Neighborhood Entrepreneurs Project to hire three community residents and three U-M students as part of the Community Tech Workers program. The program provides free technology support and training for Detroit small businesses and a path to economic mobility for local community members. The Community Tech Workers connect business owners with technology and work with them on website optimization, social media support, point of sale research and optimization and more. They are technology professionals in-training who teach business owners how to solve their tech issues. 

Jefferson East is also a co-investigator with the U-M College of Engineering, School for Environment and Sustainability, School of Public Health and the Institute for Social Research on a current NSF Smart and Connected Communities Program grant that looks at issues around energy justice and energy case management. A case manager works with homeowners to put them in touch with a range of energy- and cost-savings opportunities. This is a great example of how research informed direct action that benefited longtime, low-income residents. 

We are also partnering with the SEAS Sustainability Clinic. We have been able to leverage student capstone projects to help inform what role Jefferson East needs to play to help alleviate flooding issues in the areas we serve. The goal is to help prevent basement and shoreline flooding, and to give us a framework for how we guide residents in the Jefferson-Chalmers area out of the federally designated flood plain.  

What do you value most about your partnerships with U-M? What advice would you give to other organizations interested in partnering with the university? 

It's a wonderful fusion of a very rigorous academic approach and providing what residents and businesses really need. It's the immediate application of world-class research to fix world-class challenges and drive change in neighborhoods. 

As far as advice, I would say get to know the different departments and units at the university so you can learn how to best leverage all the services U-M has to offer. 

This article was written by Ann Zaniewski, U-M Office of Public Affairs.

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