Contemporary political wives, although they vary in clout and influence, continue to play an increasingly critical role in federal administrations, state government and local legislatures. Like famous first ladies Michelle Obama and Hillary Clinton, they share the responsibility of employing diplomacy and making their husband’s administrations successful.
Wayne County First Lady Renata Evans, Wayne County Director of Community Engagement and wife of Wayne County Executive Warren Evans, is one of the newest members of that growing club of first ladies who make significant contributions to their husband’s administrations. But with that distinction, Evans also joins the ranks of first ladies who sometimes find themselves embroiled in controversy for their influential roles and efforts to advance important causes.
“Because I am the wife of Warren Evans, the CEO of Wayne County [and one of the most powerful men in Michigan], it’s harder for some people to digest me working at the Treasurer’s Office, even though it is for another elected official, Mr. Eric Sabree, and not the CEO’s office,” explains Evans. “What that allows me to do is go out into the community and give the message or the narrative from the Treasurer, which has nothing to do with the CEO and his daily work.”
But Evans, who is both remarkably capable and competent, forges ahead with her mission to assist Wayne County residents caught up in the dilemma of foreclosure, and works to provide relief from the often intimidating process of negotiating agreements to keep their homes.
The community engagement specialist, who has held the position since February 2016, is charged with the often daunting task of assisting the thousands of residents in the 43 municipalities that make up Wayne County avoid or find relief from home foreclosures. The general consensus is that first Lady Evans is doing an admirable job and is embraced by residents across the county.
“I go out and talk to residents about foreclosures and how to save their homes. I’m talking to people about what is necessary to stay in their homes and giving them the tools to secure their homes and homeownership,” she says.
Evans takes the foreclosure issue personally and established a homeownership program which affords veterans the opportunity to start payment plans with no money down. She also instituted the popular “Talk to the Treasurer” program that allows Wayne County citizens a chance to engage one-on-one with Wayne County Treasurer Eric Sabree to discuss personal hardships and payment options.
Evans readily admits she has firsthand experience with the detriment of home foreclosure and the challenges it creates. The mother of two, from a previous marriage, spoke with candor about losing her own home and the decisions she was forced to make in the wake of foreclosure. “I was a victim of the foreclosure process in 2008 to 2009, so who better to tell the story,” she stated before continuing.
“My husband and I had a janitorial business and the business folded during the economic decline. … So, we had to make a choice to either continue to pay for our home on Fenmore, with an adjustable arm mortgage that was going up every couple of months, or keep our kids in private school.” Evans calculated the pros and cons of keeping a $125,000 home, which at that time was valued at $27,000. The home eventually sold at auction for $17,000.
The 45-year-old Evans says her decision not to compromise her children’s education was the right road to take at that juncture as she boasts about her children thriving academically. “I have a daughter who’s 20 now, has earned a full four-year scholarship to Wayne State where she is a pre-med student and on the honor roll … Did I make the right decision, I thinks so,” she beamed.
Prior to working at the treasurer’s office, Evans, a longtime community activist spent seven years at Greater Detroit Management and Resources Services Association where she honed her community service skills and worked as an advocate to expand assistance and support programs for veterans and children.
The dedicated philanthropist and full time college student, remains committed to improving the quality of life for Wayne County Citizens consistently volunteers after work hours and on weekends.
“I am on the board of the University of Commons in the Avenue of Fashions area. We work to secure grants for home improvement and residential and business façades in the area. One of the biggest projects I worked on and one that I am very proud of is the Lighting Project on Livernois. We found that businesses in the retail corridor were closing at 5 p.m. because of the lack of lighting and we were just in the dark. We got a grant, got the lights and the project was so phenomenal that it ended up in the New York Times,” she said enthusiastically.
Evans is also a board member of the Detroit Institute of the Arts where she is heavily involved in installing art works at Detroit Metropolitan Airport’s International Terminal. Other charitable and cultural contributions include the Negro League Memorabilia preservation project at the Charles Wright Museum, Wayne County Council of Arts, History and Humanities, Wayne County Arts Authority. University Commons and the Avenue of Fashion Business Association.
Surprisingly Evans, who begins her day at 5:30 p.m. and typically works until 7 p.m., before attending evening community meetings at weekend volunteer activities, says she is a homebody at heart. “I make my husband and I breakfast in the morning and get our clothes ready, before we head off to start our busy days. … But I am happy to get home, put on the slippers and have a good cup of tea.”
The pressures of long-work days and endless community activities and the constant scrutiny of the media and detractors could prove too much for a lesser woman. But relatively new newlywed — she and Warren Evans married in December of 2016 — says her honeymoon with the role of first lady is going strong and shows no sign of waning during her husband’s term. “I know that what I am doing is right. And it’s right for the citizens of Wayne County. My mandate is to save people from undergoing some of the hardships they’re faced with. And my mantra is to ‘Beat myself,’ which means to do better than I did the day before, and that’s what I’m going to do.”