Let’s Stay Neighbors

Neighbor to Neighbor is a project about Detroiters — friends, family, strangers, children, elderly and neighbors. Foreclosure is a longstanding, systemic and abundant problem in Detroit due to extremely high property taxes. One resource for people is the City’s Property Tax Exemption (PTE) program.

Almost 30,000 Detroiters qualify for the city’s Property Tax Exemption Program, but only about 6,000 people apply every year. We were approached by Neighbor To Neighbor and Rocket Companies (previously Quicken Loans Community Fund) to understand how we could spread the word, and help Detroiters apply for this program through improvements and innovative methods.
Sarah Cremering, Yasmin Ali, Josh Krauth-Harding, Will Callis, Erica Heathcote, Matt Nielsen, Tracee Hartley

CLIENTNeighbor To Neighbor, Quicken Loans Community Fund

3 months

What do we know about Property Tax Exemption?

We went through all the documents given to us by Neighbor To Neighbor to build a basic understanding of their challenges, and also conducted a brand audit.

Before we started, we did not know anything about property taxes or the exemption policy. So we sought out to uncover the context by looking at Detroit through a historical and systemic lens. We took many deep dives to understand the application process from different perspectives.

What can we learn from people who have been through this process before? What about people who will benefit from it?

One of our guiding principles in this project was that we are not the experts but rather, we are learning from people who have been through this process. We attended a volunteer-led workshop, we also took part in cold-calling people about Property Tax Exemption, interviewed residents and built relationships with them.

We interviewed and spoke to people who had applied to PTE before. Many of them spoke about how it helped them come out of unsafe housing situations. Many of them had also become volunteers to support the Neighbor To Neighbor mission and spread awareness.
Based on our interviews and the documents — we formalized a journey map for the application process. There were a lot of moving parts and pieces in this process involving people to go to different locations, collecting paperwork, finding a notary and submitting the application.

Some situations as described during our interview session — these are key words we kept hearing and coming across during our research.

Our biggest themes — Trust & Access.

We identified different research themes that spanned across awareness, access, trust, stigma, language and safety. 
However, many of these themes correspond to the lack of trust in the policy, and the lack of resources to finish the application. 

To increase awareness of PTE, to strengthen Neighbor To Neighbor and help those who need it — we unified Neighbor To Neighbor’s identity through branding and campaigning. We also defined other deliverables using user stories including a newly designed PTE application form and a DIY application kit.

Our themes as synthesized after the research process.

First iteration & feedback loops

Our first round of presentations to our stakeholders — Neighbor To Neighbor organizers, Quicken Loans Community Fund, Detroit City Council and resident Detroiters — was an informal walkthrough of our process (crazy walls with many notes and drawings) as well as some initial prototypes of deliverables. We proposed the following;

Brand & Campaign

A loud and bold identity that empowers people to take charge of their homes and encourages them to apply for PTE — this was our vision for Neighbor To Neighbor.

We also wanted to be strategic about our campaign, using social media, wheat paste posters, grocery bags, volunteer identification and radio ads.


A Do-It-Yourself Kit inclusive of resources (bus routes, notary lists and workshops in the are) and dates to remember to fill out the Property Tax Exemption applications from the comfort of their homes. This would mean less going out to collect paperwork, and directly mailing it in to the location.

Guided PTE form

The complex and jargon-y language of the original PTE form makes it difficult for people to understand how to fill it — and almost impossible for those who have a different first language. We worked under the guidance of The Work Department to create instructions using simple words which would aid ESL speakers in comprehension

Neighbor To Neighbor’s new identity

Inspired by the grid system of Detroit’s neighborhoods, infused with bold lettering while keeping the mark from the old identity, we presented the new vision for Neighbor To Neighbor.

Social Media & Motion

An important aspect of this identity was having a social media presence to stay connected. I used bold colors and blocky motion to reiterate the essence of the brand.
[Increase volume]


We created a number of different outreach assets that were scalable — from a public-facing billboard, a radio-ad, to wheat-paste posters as well as branded gear for volunteers and canvassers.


This work was put into execution by Neighbor To Neighbor and supported by the City of Detroit and Quicken Loans Community Fund which resulted in an increase in applications filed from 6,000 (in 2019) to 17,500 (in 2020). The Property Tax Exmpetion program continues to grow and has expanded to different cities including Cleveland, OH and Atlanta, GA.

Final presentation to our stakeholders.

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