Detroiters fight to keep their houses

From the March-April 2015 issue of News & Letters

Detroit—The number of Detroiters helping their neighbors resolve property tax foreclosure (approximately 37,000 of the 62,000 foreclosed residences are occupied) has grown by leaps and bounds as community groups all over the city host meetings on what can be done. Every home saved is one less blighted property, one less property that would otherwise drag down the quality of life in our neighborhoods. Every resident helped is asked to spread the word and give back to the community.

Volunteers at these workshops all said that what was rewarding was seeing residents—who had entered stoop-shouldered, looking worried, barely making eye contact—exit with their heads held high, smiling, because they no longer feared losing their homes.

A small, vocal coalition made up of Detroit Eviction Defense, Moratorium NOW! Coalition, People’s Water Board and Detroit Active and Retired Employees Association, protested Mayor Mike Duggan’s “State of the City” speech last month. The coalition said that the State of Michigan needs to use federal housing assistance funds to keep people in their homes instead of using it to demolish vacant buildings. By paying off delinquent property taxes, further blight would be prevented and the city could use the increased property tax revenues for demolition.

The surge in tax-foreclosed properties has become the latest form of class war in Detroit. Along with the water shutoffs and the massive amount of mortgage foreclosures since 2008, whole areas of the city face complete depopulation. Not only Nature but capitalism abhors a vacuum and Black and poor people will be forced out while developers and speculators get rich. That is why it is so important for neighborhood residents to band together, so that the lofty words of the Mayor—“Every neighborhood has a future, and it doesn’t include blight”—become meaningful not only for developers and landlords but for those of us who have been here all along.

—Susan Van Gelder

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