Ypsilanti's Hamilton Crossing housing area has come a long way since the days when it sat run down and nearly empty, a magnet for crime with boarded up windows. Both Hamilton Crossing and its residents are doing much better now.
Tax credits helped pay for renovations at the property, and the Family Empowerment Program has been helping residents improve their lives.
Marquan Jackson is director of the program, which requires families receiving project-based vouchers to sign up for classes that help them set goals in areas like job training and education, health, finances, and parenting and life skills.
Jackson says the program has an employment rate of 70 percent or higher.
"That's huge, because we have some families that had zero income when they came into the program," Jackson says. "But understanding that part of the requirement is that you're either a full-time student or you're working, it really motivates our families to find work."
Among the residents who've benefited from the Family Empowerment Program is Takiyah Young.
She's a single mom with two kids and a third on the way who's been living in Hamilton Crossing since January of 2013. She says she has five family goals, and she's achieved three of them.
"I have at least three more years to be here," Young says. "If I need an extension that'd probably help, but we're going to plan on getting a house after this. That's my personal family goal. If not, we'll keep it here until we get there."
Young moved to Hamilton Crossing from the Parkridge housing area just down the street, and she sometimes goes back to encourage people living there to take charge of their lives.
"If you want, you can do it," she says. "If you want to. Don't just use it to your advantage as far as 'oh, it's low income.' It's better for you to do what you're supposed to do in the program to help you in the next five years: take our funds and do something better with our children."
Ypsilanti Housing Commission Executive Director Zac Fosler says the mandatory aspect of the Family Empowerment Program is important.
"Residents who are living in the property are required to participate," he says. "And if they're not complying with the requirements of the program then they're not in compliance with their lease. I think that's been a very powerful tool, especially in the beginning, getting people into the program and becoming engaged with the program."
The Family Empowerment Program has been funded for the past three years through a grant from the Kresge Foundation.
The Housing Commission is re-applying for the grant, and hopes to expand the program to the Parkridge and Strong Housing areas in Ypsilanti.