Detroit: houses lost, pensions looted

From the November-December 2014 issue of News & Letters

Detroit—As expected, Judge Stephen Rhodes ruled Nov. 7 that Detroit’s Plan of Adjustment was fair and feasible and allowed the City of Detroit to exit bankruptcy. One retiree termed the jovial press conference with the Mayor, Council President, Emergency Manager and Governor Rick Snyder as “sickening.”

Thanks to the media, people believe retirees voted “overwhelmingly” for a 4.5% cut to their pensions. Half the retirees did not vote, and many believed Judge Rhodes’ ruling that federal bankruptcy law overrides Michigan Constitutional protection of pensions would be overturned. But the “yes” vote included relinquishing pensioners’ right to seek further legal redress.

REDEVELOPING DETROIT MINUS DETROITERS

Now that the election has given Republican Snyder four more years, an additional 25% of Detroit homeowners are in danger of losing their homes next year because the county’s new regulations require full payment of all back taxes to avert foreclosure. Meanwhile the Plan of Adjustment gave several prime real estate parcels to the bond insurers, who can now redevelop them for huge profits.

Now that bankruptcy has spun off part of the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department, citizens fear that excessive water bills and continued mass water shutoffs are one more weapon to clear them out of the city. Nearly 600 people testified Oct. 19 before the UN Special Rapporteurs. “We were shocked, impressed by the proportions of the disconnections and by the way that it is affecting the weakest, the poorest and the most vulnerable,” said one. The Peoples’ Water Board Coalition is demanding implementation of the 2005 affordability plan. Mayor Mike Duggan said he was disappointed with the UN’s visit. Shutoffs continue apace.

HUMAN COSTS FOR RETIREES

One activist spoke for many with her post on Facebook: “A small group of Detroiters have been fighting this corrupt bankruptcy since it started. I explained to a reporter it was a political, not financial, bankruptcy—a far Right-wing takeover….While one retiree was interviewed, another started to cry next to me. I think the human cost of this (aside from the personal impact—how will my mom pay for her groceries?) is enormous. It is my mom or this crying retiree times 23,000 Detroit retirees. And if you think it’s just here? No. It is all the grandmas and grandpas of Greece. It is the public workers in Puerto Rico. It is the firefighters of Central Falls, Rhode Island. And soon it will be the parents and grandparents of many in Chicago. The personal and community wealth to be siphoned off to the Cayman Islands and yachts is stomach turning…”

Detroit residents and their allies, now more than ever, will need to continue networking and organizing to make sure the philosophy of the people is loud and clear in determining what kind of new Detroit we want.

—Susan Van Gelder

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