Dan Gilbert, the billionaire founder of Quicken Loans, announced Thursday morning that he is donating his fortune to the residents of Detroit following a realization he had at a Passover seder this week.
“We were getting things started by watching The Prince of Egypt, as we traditionally do in our family,” Gilbert recounted, “and about halfway through the opening chariot race scene, I got this sneaking suspicion that there was something familiar about the story of an autocratic, extremely wealthy individual [Pharaoh] trying to immortalize himself by building giant monuments to his ego.”
Gilbert, who broke ground in 2017 on a downtown Detroit skyscraper intended to be Michigan’s tallest, had already announced plans to donate $500 million towards Detroit neighborhood revitalization efforts the previous week. But thinking through the Passover story prompted him to go several steps further.
“Abraham Joshua Heschel said that all of us need to be on guard against the ‘hardness of heart’ that defined Pharaoh’s attitude towards the Israelites,” Gilbert noted. “And I started to wonder, have I really paid enough attention to the struggles that so many Detroiters are facing, in part due to my own company’s mortgage practices? Have I examined how structural racism and inequality facilitated my own massive wealth, by allowing me to buy an entire downtown at rock-bottom prices?”
“The answer was a clear ‘no.’ So I decided to act.”
Gilbert explained that his fortune of about $57 billion would be distributed to Detroit residents on the basis of need, with each of the city’s roughly 700,000 residents receiving an average of $80,000, more than twice what the average Detroit household makes in a year.
“Let’s be honest,” Gilbert said. “No amount of cash can really make up for the decades of segregation and disinvestment that Thomas Sugrue so powerfully documented in The Origins of the Urban Crisis, not to mention the reverse redlining and foreclosures of recent years. If I’d thought about this earlier, maybe I wouldn’t have hosted a fundraiser for Donald Trump in one of my buildings back in 2016, or gotten the Michigan Legislature to award me $600 million in taxpayer funds for the Hudson’s Site development. But the least I can do now is give back to the Detroiters who’ve been robbed and exploited by so many people, including myself, for so long.”
Gilbert also announced that a small portion of his fortune will also fund the production of a “Detroit Haggadah,” focusing on economic and racial justice, on the condition that it be published entirely in Comic Sans.