Ford Foundation president Darren Walker told Crain's that the foundation has hired a program officer who will be based in Detroit and charged with overseeing annual grantmaking in the city totaling some $15 million — more than in any other U.S. city. The foundation, which announced in April that it would commit up to $1 billion of its endowment to mission-related investing, is planning to invest in affordable housing in Detroit and surrounding suburbs as a "primary focus" for its housing development investments. While it has not set a target amount for those investments, the foundation is looking to support the creation of housing for households earning between 75 percent and 150 percent of the median household income — in Detroit, between $19,300 and $38,600.
"What drove it was the realization that we're going to have to leverage every asset we have to advance revitalization in Detroit," said Walker. "And those tools must go beyond our grantmaking."
The hiring of a Detroit-based program officer is the latest move in Walker's effort to rebuild the foundation's ties to the city where its endowment was created. Following its unprecedented $125 million contribution to the 2014 Detroit "grand bargain," a public-private partnership that helped settle many of the contentious issues stemming from the city's historic bankruptcy and prevented the breakup of the Detroit Institute of Arts collection to pay off creditors, the foundation held its 2015 annual board meeting in the city — the first time since 1948 it had done so.
Walker plans to detail the foundation's past and future efforts in the city in a speech Thursday at the Detroit Regional Chamber's Mackinac Policy Conference. "[The program officer] will be working from Detroit and working with grantee partners there so we don't have to have staff parachute in and out," he told Crain's. "I think it's important because having someone close to the ground, someone working in the city, is a more effective way to do our work."