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Michiganders’ top 10 consumer complaints of 2019 revealed

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LANSING, MI – In 2019, Michiganders were most unhappy with personal service providers such as gyms, salons, dating services, home security and tax preparers.

The category jumped from No. 7 in 2018 to No. 1 in 2019 with more than 1,100 complaints to the Michigan Department of Attorney General. The office dealt with more than 9,200 complaints in 2019.

In recognition of National Consumer Protection Week, Attorney General Dana Nessel released the top 10 consumer complaints of 2019 on Tuesday, March 3, “to help consumers make well-informed decisions about where to spend their money,” the news release said.

The department recovered more than $680,000 in consumer refunds, forgiven debts and state recoveries in 2019, authorities said.

“By taking a proactive approach and educating residents about the top threats we’ve noticed, we hope to stop as many scammers and deceptive business practices as we can from causing further harm to Michigan consumers,” Nessel said.

Formal complaints filed with the attorney general’s office can help build cases to hold accountable those who attempt to break the law, she said. Nessel took action against Family Fitness, Go Workout and Crown Jewel Spa and Salon in 2019, all of which fall into the personal service providers category.

The rise is complaints against personal service providers was the “most surprising change,” in the 2019 complaint ranking, the release said. Another change is the debut appearance of travel complaints in the No. 10 spot, replacing gasoline fuel prices and energy providers category. Five categories held steady in their spots from for 2018.

Here are the top 10 consumer complaint categories of 2019:

  1. Personal Service Providers: The jump from No. 7 to No. 1 is attributable to the large number of complaints against West Michigan-based gym chain Family Fitness, Go Workout, Crown Jewel Spa and Salon and Light RX. Complaints in this category also include dating services, beauty shops, home security and tax preparation services.
  2. Telecommunications, Cable and Satellite TV: This category includes complaints involving issues like robocalls, telemarketing, wireless communications, and cable and satellite TV services. Despite staying in the second spot, the department received more than 20 percent more complaints in this category compared to 2018, which could be attributed to the office’s robocall initiative announced in November.
  3. Motor Vehicle and Automobiles: With complaints up 10 percent, this category held onto the No. 3 spot. Complaints against used car dealers top the category, with other top complaints involving vehicles, new car dealers and car rentals. During 2019, the department reached a settlement with Executive Car Rental, securing nearly $40,000 in reimbursements for customers.
  4. Credit and Financial Concerns: This was the No. 1 category in 2018. Only 769 complaints were logged in 2019. Complaints in this category cover debt collection and reporting, credit repair, payday lending and mortgage brokering. In October, the Attorney General’s office filed suit to stop the predatory lending practices of online tribal lender Sierra Financial.
  5. Retail: Retail complaints included concerns about general merchandise, food and furniture stores, business services, and eating and drinking places.
  6. Internet: While internet complaints dropped down the list for No. 4 to No. 6, the number of complaints were about the same. Most of these complaints involved online purchases, and many complaints against computer communication and internet service providers. In 2019, the department opened an investigation into Blvck Pods LLC and Blvcked Pods LLC for running a drop-shipping operation that relied on a Chinese company to supply wireless earphones to consumers who believed they were buying customized products.
  7. Landlord and Tenant: Nearly 500 complaints moved this category from No. 8 to No. 7. Most of the complaints in this category involved apartment owners and managers; complaints against mobile home site operators and condominium associations accounted for most the complaints in this category.
  8. Contractors: There were 176 fewer complaints against contractors in 2019 compared to 2018, causing the category to slide down the list from No. 6 to No. 8. Complaints included residential building construction services, landscaping services, plumbing, heating and air condition services, and special trade contractors.
  9. Health Service Providers: This category’s total complaints increased by more than 17 percent compared to 2018. It includes health service providers like doctors, dentists, hospitals and medical clinics.
  10. Travel: Travel bumped out complaints for gasoline fuel and energy providers to enter the list at No. 10. This category includes complaints about companies like travel agents, travel companies and time-share companies. The attorney general’s office put on notice campground operator Outdoor Adventures in August 2019.

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Developers plan 13 new homes in Muskegon Heights to help ‘people of color bring their community back’

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MUSKEGON HEIGHTS, MI – Two pastors from Indiana have a plan to build 13 new homes in the city of Muskegon Heights as part of an initiative to help “people of color bring their community back.”

The Rev. Rodney Lynch and the Rev. Willie Thompson, both of West Lafayette, Indiana, recently purchased 13 vacant lots from the city on which they plan to build single-family homes.

Thompson grew up in Muskegon Heights.

“He remembers when it was a thriving community — in the years he grew up there — and he sees it now,” Lynch told MLive. “We were talking one day, and he said this city is under new leadership, and because there’s new leadership, there’s new hope.”

Troy Bell became the city’s new manager at the beginning of this year. One of his early initiatives was a plan to formalize and add development requirements to the city’s tradition of selling city-owned vacant lots for $100 each.

Lynch and Thompson purchased 13 lots on Fifth, Sixth, Seventh, McIlwraith, Elwood and Superior streets.

Calling themselves Muskegon Heights Investors LLC, Lynch and Thompson will look for builders to construct “high quality” homes with sale prices of about $100,000 to $130,000, Lynch said.

Home buyers will be provided “wrap around services,” such as help preparing their credit for home purchase and education on how to properly maintain their properties, Lynch said.

“I’m more interested in the humanitarian part of this — helping quote, unquote minorities rebuild their own community (and) be a part of bringing their community back,” he said.

Under the city’s lot sale policy, lots are sold for $100 each and purchasers are required to pay for document and other fees, estimated at about $150 per lot. They also must pay three years’ worth of taxes, estimated at about $270 per lot.

Construction on the lots is to begin within two years of purchase, and owners must maintain the property, or it will revert to the city through a quick claim deed.

Requirements include planting grass and shrubs, removing dead trees and weeds and keeping structures in good repair.

The objectives of the lot-sales program are raising revenue, reducing crime and blight and encouraging development in the city.

Lynch said he visited Muskegon Heights twice and was dismayed by some of what he saw, but also encouraged by the “great opportunity for people of color to bring their community back.”

“When I first came up there, I was like ‘Wow, the city needs help.’ It’s depleted. The roads are bad, a lot of boarded-up houses,” Lynch said. “But I said, ‘Yeah, this is a great opportunity right here.’”

Bell said he has worked for several months with the Indiana developers as the city refined its process for approving lot sales.

“I appreciate their commitment to the community,” Bell said. ”I appreciate them trying to be part of the renaissance of this community.”

The “key to spurring economic development” in Muskegon Heights is improving the city’s housing stock which has an average age of 100 years, Bell said. New homes have not built in the city since 2014, and that was just three new homes, he said.

The city owns 350 vacant lots and the Muskegon County Land Bank owns another 450, Bell said.

While Muskegon Heights has been selling vacant lots for $100, the process was informal and didn’t require development of the lots, he said. That resulted in many of the lots being used to park vehicles, and often owners didn’t pay the property taxes and the land reverted to the city, Bell said.

“That’s why the city is barely making it by now — because it has no tax base,” Bell said.

He said he has encouraged builders to shoot for “high quality” homes and to include credit repair, first-time home buyer and homeowner education programs like the ones Lynch said his group is planning.

The next “phase” of the city’s plan to improve housing involves tackling renovations of boarded-up and vacant homes and better enforcement of building codes, Bell said.

The city of Muskegon recently embarked on an ambitious effort to improve its housing stock by encouraging developers to build single family homes. The $49.5 million plan to build 240 homes in the city over the next three years involves the use of Brownfield tax credits to help make the homes affordable.

Among those are 13 homes under construction on Webster Avenue between Eighth and Ninth streets near the city’s downtown.

Also on MLive:

Muskegon police identify shooting victim, look for killer

Frauenthal Center’s $7 million preservation campaign looks to ‘the next 90 years’

Man rescued from Lake Michigan after being swept off breakwall

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Fund launched to support women business owners affected by COVID | News

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A fund has been launched to support female business owners affected by the continuing economic challenges due to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The partner plan-like facility called the Win-Win Partner Fund, has been designed by the Women Entrepreneurs Network of the Caribbean (WENC). It is targeted to the organisation’s member-base of 150 women business owners. 

Although declining to  provide disbursement data, WENC said entrepreneurs have already accessed loans from the facility to stock their businesses; invest in e-commerce opportunities and to bring their businesses in line with COVID-19 norms. Financing for business start-ups has also been disbursed.    

In a release WENC described the fund as a hybrid of the traditional partner plan. 

“Yes, members are required to pay a monthly ‘hand’ and yes, they will receive funds when it is their turn; however that’s perhaps where the similarity to the traditional partner ends,” the organisation said. 

“This atypical hybrid is designed to have built-in mechanisms to facilitate sustainability and scalability. This is because the organisation is well-aware that its members will need support long after the world waves its final good-bye to COVID,” it explained. 

Women more stressed by COVID

President, Ethnie Miller Simpson said the idea for the fund emerged from the frustrations women generally face. She argued that women have had to bear the brunt of the economic fallout from COVID-19 in Jamaica. 

“This developing trend has long-term implications for our community. We, therefore, need to ensure that we will have the capacity to support them beyond the crisis.” said Miller Simpson.

She said women tend to earn less, have lower amounts of savings and are disproportionately represented in the informal economy and service sectors, which have been hard-hit by the pandemic. 

“These facts when added to the certain knowledge that the majority of single-parent households are led by women and that within two-parent homes women are more likely to be burdened with unpaid care and domestic work, it is astonishing that these factors have not sufficiently informed state relief packages nor private sector loans” she .

Although operational, WENC acknowledged that it is working on strengthening its model.  

“To ensure its long-term viability, the architects of this pioneering plan are exploring alternative credit scores and credit repair facilities that are suited to women-led MSMEs (micro small and medium enterprises),” the organisation said. It noted that its working with the Asian Development Bank identify suitable integration models. 

WENC is also looking at integrating digital payment options for the facility and to develop an app for the fund.

Follow The Gleaner on Twitter and Instagram @JamaicaGleaner and on Facebook @GleanerJamaica. Send us a message on WhatsApp at 1-876-499-0169 or email us @onlinefeedback@gleanerjm.com or editors@gleanerjm.com.

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JVS and TCF Offering Education & Funding towards Credit Repair, Home Ownership • Oakland County Times

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JVS and TCF Offering Education & Funding towards Credit Repair, Home Ownership

JVS and TCF Offering Education & Funding towards Credit Repair, Home Ownership

(JVS, Oct. 29, 2020)

Southfield, MI- JVS Human Services, one of the largest human service agencies in metro Detroit, is announcing the HarMoney Program, a new financial initiative to help low- to moderate-income families in Oakland County get their foot on the home ownership ladder. Through the HarMoney Program, qualified families can receive up to $1000 down payment assistance on a home, or for repairing their financial credit to help them qualify for home ownership, after successful completion of a 12-week financial education course. Up to 40 qualified families will benefit from the initiative which will launch Monday, November 9 at 3 p.m. via Facebook Live. The program is made possible by a $50,000 grant from TCF Bank’s Community Impact Fund.

“Around 75 percent of the calls we receive into our financial coaching department is about home ownership, with one of the largest barriers being the inability to fund a down payment. Through HarMoney we now we can provide a little extra help, to push struggling families over the finishing line,” said Laltsha Cunningham, Financial Capability Supervisor at JVS Human Services. “We decided to call the program HarMoney, because so many in the population are not in harmony with their finances which is incredibly stressful, particularly now during this unprecedented time.”

JVS Human Services has identified that Oakland County has had a recent increase in households experiencing poverty. In 2019, census tracking showed that 8.2 percent of families in Oakland County were below the income poverty level and, now with the Covid-19 pandemic, these numbers will likely become greater. An increase in overall debt, lower credit scores and lack of savings impacts a family’s ability to qualify for either renting or leasing a property and is a major obstacle to home ownership. The aim of the HarMoney Program is help families gain the knowledge to manage their money more effectively, learn skills such as budgeting and credit repair and understand the path to home ownership. The HarMoney Program components include:

~12 weeks of interactive financial education workshops (1-2 hours per week)

~Eight individual financial coaching sessions

~Referrals to organizations that focus on income support and career development

~Development of a credit repair strategy

~Credit report pulls at the start, midway and conclusion of the program

~Down payment assistance of up to $1000 per family after successful program completion

“TCF is a purpose-driven company, passionate about building stronger individuals, businesses and communities. TCF’s Community Impact Fund supports local organizations because we know that together, we can do even more good in the communities where we live and serve,” said Laura Castone, Market Manager of Community Development. “TCF is proud to make this donation to JVS Human Services, which provides critical resources to local residents to help them take the steps towards home ownership.”

Potential applicants to the HarMoney Program must be low- to moderate-income based on HUD income limits and have a current credit score at or below 620. For more information applicants can email financialhelp@jvshumanservices.org, call 248.233.4299, or go to https://www.jvshumanservices.org/homebuyers.

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