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Rocket Companies Chairman Dan Gilbert Commits $500M To Detroit Neighborhoods, Starts With Property Tax Debt Relief

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Dustin Blitchok
·4 min read
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Detroit native Dan Gilbert is giving back in a major way.

Gilbert, the Rocket Companies (NYSE: RKT) chairman and owner of the NBA's Cleveland Cavaliers, will be investing $500 million over the next decade to help revitalize Detroit neighborhoods.

The effort is starting with a $15-million commitment by the nonprofit Gilbert Family Foundation, founded by Gilbert and his wife Jennifer, to pay off delinquent property taxes for about 20,000 Detroit families.

One-third of homes in the Motor City have been touched by property tax debt, Gilbert said at a Thursday press conference in downtown Detroit.

"This isn’t just a sparse problem, it’s a problem that’s massive and it’s contagious. But it’s not the properties we’re most concerned about, it’s the people who live in them, so we went to work," he said.

"Tomorrow morning will be a new start and new era for a large chunk of the city's residents who have been left behind too long."

'This Has Become Personal For Us': Of the $500-million commitment announced Thursday, the Gilbert Family Foundation will contribute $350 million and the Rocket Community Fund will commit $150 million.

The mechanism for the payments of tax debt will be the Detroit Tax Relief Fund, administered by the nonprofit Wayne Metro Community Action Agency.

Jennifer Gilbert held focus groups over the last year with Detroiters, and she said the conversations made two things clear: Detroiters are resilient and need greater access to economic opportunity.

"This has become personal for us," she said. "We find ourselves talking about these issues as a couple and a family often. We can do better. We will do better."

Rocket Companies is the parent company of Rocket Mortgage and Quicken Loans, the nation's largest home mortgage lender. The company listed on the New York Stock Exchange in August 2020.

Gilbert founded Quicken Loans in 1985 and moved its headquarters to the city of Detroit in 2010; the company now has 24,000 employees.

See Also: Rocket Companies CEO Downplays Rising Interest Rates

Gilbert On Giving Back: Gilbert "sees the world through the eyes of a kid who grew up in Detroit, who came out of this city and did great," said Mayor Mike Duggan.

"When he sees houses in financial distress, he sees children like him who have enormous potential."

The Rocket Companies chairman previously designed a program for Detroiters who were paying their rent but whose landlords were not paying property taxes, the mayor said. Today, 1,100 such tenants in the city own their own homes.

Gilbert is recovering from a May 2019 stroke, and said an experience like his brings focus to a person's priorities.

"You get in a position where you can change things. It's an honorable position to be in," he said. "Years down the line, are you going to regret giving away wealth that helps so many people, or are you going to regret that you didn't?"

The Gilberts are giving back to Detroit "because we can," he said. "And because we can, why wouldn't we?"

Finding A Better Way: The tackling of Detroit's property tax debt crisis epitomizes one of Gilbert's "isms" that underpin the corporate culture of Rocket Companies, said CEO Jay Farner: "It's best summed up by saying we are truly obsessed with finding a better way."

The $15-million commitment for property tax debt is the start of many initiatives, and the foundations will decide the next steps with the citizens they are working with, the CEO said.

Of the Detroit homeowners who are behind on their property taxes, roughly 90% should qualify for relief, said Rocket Community Fund Vice President Laura Grannemann.

Wayne County, where Detroit is located, is investing $5 million in future foreclosure prevention alongside the Gilbert Family Foundation, she said.

"Today we take one huge step toward building systems of economic justice that work for every Detroiter in our city, and I could not be prouder to be a small part of it."

FYI: Detroit homeowners who have received or are eligible for the Homeowners Property Tax Assistance Program and the Pay As You Stay program can find out more about the property tax debt relief by calling 313-244-0274 or visitng the Wayne Metro Community Action Agency website.

Jason Shubnell contributed to this report.

Photo: Rocket Companies Chairman Dan Gilbert and his wife Jennifer, the co-founders of the Gilbert Family Foundation, at the Thursday rollout of a $500-million investment in the city of Detroit. Photo by Dustin Blitchok.

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