If Southwest Solutions, a multifaceted human services agency in Detroit, did nothing else but renovate affordable homes and sell them to lower-income residents, homeless people, or veterans, it would fail.
“We would absolutely fail, because people who are struggling to make ends meet or are homeless need long-term support,” says Hector Hernandez, executive director of Southwest Economic Solutions, a division of Southwest Solutions. “What we’ve learned over the years is that success comes from offering a comprehensive strategy to fight poverty. We get people trained for jobs, we work with them on applying for a mortgage, and once they get a home, we work with them to make sure they stay on a good path.”
As Detroit and other communities in the region strive to rebuild distressed neighborhoods, Southwest Solutions, founded in 1972, has learned that long-term success in redeveloping and selling vacant homes is the result of offering multiple programs rather than focusing on a single sales transaction.
“You can’t just sell one of our homes to someone and hand them the keys,” Hernandez says. “There’s a whole gamut of things people need.”
To that end, Southwest Solutions offers an array of services including education, health care, workforce development, housing, financial counseling and assistance, business coaching, and job training. The organization, located in a former cigar factory along Michigan Avenue that was designed by Albert Kahn in 1904, operates on a $44 million annual budget and employs around 500 people.
“A lot of people we work with don’t have a safety net,” Hernandez says. “They often don’t have much of an education, no soft skills, and so we offer adult education classes. We found if there’s one hiccup (in a participant’s life), they’ll be back unemployed. While you may learn in a business class to focus on one thing, we don’t have that luxury.”