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City of Detroit’s Strategic Neighborhood Fund and Affordable Housing Leverage Fund


The City of Detroit, Invest Detroit and the Local Initiatives Support Corporation – Detroit (LISC) engaged Van Dyke Horn (VDH) to help the three partner organizations manage communications for the pioneering Strategic Neighborhood Fund (SNF) and Affordable Housing Leverage Fund (AHLF). These initiatives are funded by seven-plus corporations, primarily banking institutions, to help catalyze neighborhood revitalization in 10 neighborhoods throughout Detroit by investing a total of $35 million in streetscape and park improvements, commercial corridor growth and housing development. The program was structured in a manner that paired each funder corporation with a specific neighborhood, although their investment was pooled in a general fund that was dispersed citywide.

This posed several challenges – VDH had to ensure the neighborhoods saw each corporation as a supportive partner and not a “corporate takeover,” as well as manage the community’s expectations of their assigned corporation. We also had to safeguard the corporate funders’ reputations in their given neighborhoods and make them confident their investments were being properly communicated on all levels. We also had to ensure that each partner – the City, Invest Detroit, LISC and the seven corporations – stayed informed and coordinated on media and engagement efforts in each neighborhood.










Van Dyke Horn’s primary role was to develop a public relations strategy that helped effectively communicate the SNF and AHLF initiatives to the media and in the community. Our strategy included the following components:


  • Focus Groups – Before coordinating in any public announcements or engagement, VDH conducted three focus groups to understand the challenges, opportunities, sensitivities and desired outcomes that would help inform our communications strategy and messaging platform. Our focus groups were conducted with a cross-departmental selection of City employees, representatives from each funder, and the City’s Department of Neighborhoods, which included its District Managers. 

  • Strategy and Toolkit Development – Based upon our findings in the focus groups, we developed a communications toolkit, which included a messaging guidebook that could be used by all partners involved in the SNF and AHLF initiatives.

  • Public Announcement – To launch our communications effort, VDH designed an announcement strategy that helped establish a foundation for all future communications. Ahead of a public press conference, we scheduled editorial board briefings with the region’s major and ethnic/minority news outlets to introduce the effort and answer questions in a controlled setting. We then staged a press conference in a neighborhood location with the Mayor, each corporate CEO, and key representatives from each of the seven communities.

  • Neighborhood-by-neighborhood announcements – After the initial announcement, we deployed a neighborhood-by-neighborhood strategy to announce each corporation and its partner neighborhood. For each announcement, we would work with the corporation to develop a plan that distinguished their investment from the others. For example, one corporation coupled its announcement with a housing lending program, and another coupled it with a massive neighborhood clean-up effort. We then would help the corporation, the City and other partners will all aspects of the announcement including event planning, program development, material development and media engagement. Our management of these efforts ensured that each element of the announcement stayed on message to protect the City’s and corporation’s reputations as well as make sure all efforts would resonate with that specific neighborhood.

  • Internal Communications – Make sure all partners stay in lockstep with all community engagement initiatives was critical to the success of the program. VDH developed a multi-tiered communication and marketing campaign that included the following tactics.
    • A monthly newsletter that was sent to all partner organizations including updates on neighborhood improvements, partnership announcements and community events.
    • A quarterly communications roundtable – VDH convened representatives from each partner’s communications teams quarterly to provide updates, engage in participatory planning and share best practices.
    • A quarterly funders breakfast – VDH helped organize a quarterly funders breakfast for the funders’ CEOs and program managers to update them on high-level planning efforts, funding progress and to gain feedback.

  • Ongoing Communications & Announcements – Public relations around SNF and AHLF couldn’t stop at the announcements; there needed to be an ongoing cadence of announcements to communicate progress as well as continually honor the corporations’ investments. VDH continues to develop quarterly communications plans wherein we identify key moments where we can elevate the SNF and AHLF progress, such as groundbreaking for streetscape improvements or new residential developments. We also developed a media plan to pitch “evergreen” stories or op-eds about how SNF and AHLF are improving the quality of life in neighborhoods and market conditions across the city. We also are working with each corporation to develop additional plans for engagement in each neighborhood, whether coordinating mass volunteerism for the City’s “Motor City Makeover” or a program specific to a corporation, for example, a micro-loan opportunity for neighborhood businesses.

  • Crisis management – While VDH developed a strong communications plan to address and help mitigate crises before they hit, as is known, crises are also sometimes unexpected. Recently, we had to deploy a quick-turnaround crisis plan in the Liv6 neighborhood to address the issue of local businesses suffering because of streetscape improvement construction. Our time met with the City and Liv6 stakeholder to understand their specific challenge and needs. We then developed a strategy that included media relations, advertising, social media and community marketing to help drive traffic into business on Livernois during construction.


We are nearing one year into the 5-year SNF and AHLF campaign, and to date, our efforts have caused in overwhelmingly positive results for the City, the corporate funders, and the communities they are serving. The ultimate gauge of our success is the perceptions of the program in the media and community. Thus far, all coverage of the primary announcement and individual corporate/neighborhood announcements have been favorable. Any issues of misunderstanding or skepticism of the initiative’s intent were not present in the media articles and have not been heard in the community. Another key marker of our success is the general satisfaction of the corporate funders. Each corporation has been thrilled with the results of their announcements and appreciates how VDH designed each announcement to reflect its corporate brand while also resonating in the community with which they are partnered. And, lastly and most importantly, to our knowledge the communities have welcomed their corporation partners with a reasonable expectation of their involvement resulting in little skepticism of blow back.