[Originally published by ModelD. All photos depict homes that were occupied when they were acquired by Detroit Land Bank Authority but are now vacant.]
Detroit’s greatest paradox is its abundance of space and its scarcity of quality housing.
The massive stock of single family homes once sustained double the current population. Yet each year, more Detroit homeowners become renters, squatters or altogether homeless. The problem is complex but the solutions do not have to be: what is needed is an immediate, scalable solution that will create stability and an upward trajectory for people, property, and the city at large.
(originally published in a similar form by Occupy.com)
Last month, the ACLU filed suit against the Wayne County Treasurer (WCT) for foreclosing on owner-occupied homes. The lawsuit has been anticipated for years, and could dramatically affect the fate of thousands if it successful halts the auction sale of those properties, but, even so, it would only impact one tenth of the tax foreclosed properties headed for auction since most occupied homes in the auction are already vacant or are occupied by someone other than the owner. Most occupied homes in the auction are not owner-occupied, and most protections (including due process)
apply to owners, not renters. In some ways, the greater tragedy lies in the foreclosures that go unchallenged because the protections most occupied homes in the auction properties that exist apply to the owners so most of the injustices aren’t even considered illegal.
The Wayne County Tax Foreclosure auction is regarded nationwide as an opportunity to by Detroit homes on the cheap, but the people who have the most to gain (and the most to lose) in the auction– the current residents– often have the least access to take advantage of it.
Lack of information is a chronic problem throughout the foreclosure cycle, and affects renters far more than homeowners– the auction passes noiselessly over these homes, and their residents, with no lawsuit or cover story to capture deafening silence to the people inside. Continue reading “Silent Auction”
In the early morning light, a line of people slowly builds at the front doors of the 36th District Court. A bail bondsman in parachute pants stands patiently beside the line, waiting for the grinding gears of justice inside the building to churn out some clients for him.
The 36th District Courthouse is near the hub of Gratiot’s spoke, in an area that hosts an unlikely mix of functions: large-scale entertainment and criminal justice. Comerica Park and Ford Field are blocks away, and so is the unfinished jail, which is the possible site of a possible arena for a possible MLS team. The court itself is the subject of rumors about being turned into a hotel. Perfect. The sports-and-justice district brings an interesting variety of people here at different times of week and day. Sprinkled throughout are parking lots and hotdog vendors that are surprisingly well suited to both client bases.
From where he sits in his tiny booth on the north side of the Fisher Building, Gerry can see about half of a city block. Gerry is the attendant for Tony’s Parking on Lothrop Street. He has spent at least 60 hours a week here for the past 30 years, and he knows this place and its people with an alarming intimacy, though he is oblivious to what occurs just around the next corner. When I moved into the apartment building adjacent to the lot that is Gerry’s province, I had no idea that this outspoken parking attendant would have such a persistent, if minor, role in my life.
Above all else, Gerry is a witness to this neighborhood. His official territory includes only the parking lot, but his domain extends as far as his vision. He is the type of figure that Jane Jacobs would herald as the best kind of “eyes on the street,” with mutual trust, if not affection, on the part of the observer and its subjects.
Gerry arrives to work every day before 7 a.m. He calls “information” to make sure the time on his clock is perfect so no one can say he overcharged. He surveys the area, shoveling snow away from the sidewalk or sweeping puddled rainwater into the sewer. As people arrive, he files cars in rows according to the duration of their stay to maximize capacity and minimize block-ins. It’s an endless game of horizontal tetris.
“How long you gonna stay?” he says in his faintly antagonistic way. Gerry is so severely gruff that it’s almost endearing because he seems to care so little about what others think of him. In Gerry’s eyes, everyone has an agenda and he’s not in it. He preempts others’ dismissal with casual conspiracies about people who look at him the wrong way “I know what she’s about.” Gerry knows that the people who visit his lot aren’t there for him; they are there for a service. After a brief exchange of money and words, Gerry is left to watch people’s prized possessions, alone, like an underappreciated nanny.
Gerry is famous for his non sequiturs: “Good morning!” might be answered with “My life is more complicated than yours” or “Ain’t nobody else could do this job.” Sometimes he just repeats himself by way of extending a conversation that lacks momentum: “You gotta go? You gotta go now? Where ya going? You gotta go?” This elementary form of interrogation actually works to the point that Gerry is the keystone of gossip in the surrounding social landscape. (You’d be surprised how much personal information you give away when everything you say is answered with “what else?” five consecutive times.) Continue reading “Parking Lot Gerry”
It takes something truly egregious to catalyze public action – we all now know the harm that was done and the toxic combination of neglect and manipulation that led to it. Will Flint be the tipping point?
The violation of human rights in Michigan has been going on for decades – the inevitable result of maintenance deferred in a strained economy. The canaries have been singing for awhile with emergency management, crumbling infrastructure, job loss, poverty, failing education, and so on. But since we keep falling it seems we haven’t hit bottom yet. As with other social movements, mere mistreatment isn’t enough to provoke true change.
It takes something truly egregious to catalyze action and Flint may provide the spark.
Gov. Rick Snyder has apologized for the inexcusable failures of leadership that led to the current situation in Flint, where tens of thousands of individuals, including children, have been poisoned, dismissed, neglected, and lied to. What’s clear at this stage is that great harm has been done to both people and the city’s infrastructure.
Now that state and local government have acknowledged the truth, they will have to do something about it. Any good nerd knows that “I’m sorry” doesn’t de-corrode miles of water piping or detoxify children – we need money to pay for that. But how will we find it? Here are some policy suggestions that could help ameliorate the water crisis in Flint and buttress the rest of our state’s deteriorating infrastructure.
Top it off
In the midst of ongoing financial and social instability in many of Michigan’s cities, the price of oil happens to be at a 10-year low. The current approach to this happy circumstance seems to be to just enjoy the break at the pump, but we are missing a real opportunity. The fact is that Michigan is facing grotesque infrastructure disinvestment, with aging roads and water infrastructure that our governments have proven to be either unwilling or incapable of addressing. We need to take collective action to take advantage of the opportunity that low oil rates present. What Michigan needs is a “Top Off” law that would set a price floor on gas prices.
Under this law, any time market rates of gas fall below $2.00/gallon, the gas station would become a savings account for state and local infrastructure fund. The differential between market rates and that indexed value (which could grow gradually over time) would provide funding for projects from road repairs to water pipeline modernization. If market rates exceed $2.00/gal, then we pay nothing. If prices stay above that index, well, we’re no worse off than we are now. The law would create a fund to address infrastructure issues that aren’t getting paid for now, and certainly won’t be when gas rates hike back up again. Continue reading “Policy ideas to fix Flint’s water crisis (and help avoid another)”
Post-bankruptcy Detroit is a place of undeniable opportunity, and people from all walks of life are eager to make the most of it. Massive tax foreclosures led to a record 24,000 properties being up for auction this fall, pitting residents against speculators for the chance to buy a home on the cheap. Everyone is trying to take advantage, but not everyone’s advantage corresponds with the best interests of the city.
So what is best for the city? It comes down to short versus long-term interests. Renters have shorter-term interests than their landlords and landlords have shorter-term interests that owner-occupants. One who depends on a home to raise their kids in has a different incentive to care for a property than one who sees it as a complement to their investment portfolio. For individuals, homeownership provides security in two major ways: First, by offering shelter, and second by offering stability. For speculators, property ownership provides a low-risk, low-effort form of passive income.
A study by the Journal of Urban Affairs bears this out, showing that in Detroit, the prevalence of rental properties is a strong indicator of neighborhood crime (even more so than blight). The type of benefit a property owner gains from owning a property has a direct correlation to how much the community benefits in response. Continue reading “Taking Advantage of Detroit”
For the first 14 years of my life, I really didn’t talk to boys.
It wasn’t really a problem in elementary school and, while it kinda sucked always sitting at the singles table in middle school, it wasn’t that big of a deal. But it was definitely an issue in high school. Girls seemed to measure how much they liked another girl based on on how much boys liked her, and I was barley in the equation. Somehow I was a member of the cool crowd but it always felt like a favor rather than a fact. It didn’t help that I lived far from school and had to ride the bus ride home while the city kids hung out. My friends tolerated me because I was easy to gang up on and I tolerated them because they were cool.
It was midway through freshman year and I got invited to an “away” basketball game with two of my friends who were both dating boys on the varsity team. While we were sitting in the bleachers, one of their boyfriend’s friends came and sat down next to us– next to me actually. He was incredibly intimidating, attractive, mature and just superly stupidly cool. His name was Josh. He tried making conversation but I found it almost impossible to talk back. Finally, I came up with the excuse that I had a headache to end the tortured interaction, but it backfired when he suggested we go to the vending machine to see if they had any Tylenol! I was not prepared for such an offer. I said “no,” “that’s ok,” “don’t worry about me” and that was it. He left and sat somewhere else.
My friends could barely hold it together. After the game one of them practically cornered in the parking lot: “MICHELE! What are you doing??? When a HOTJUNIOR wants to talk to you, you talk to him. When a hot junior wants you to go to the vendingmachine with you, YOU GO!!!” Obviously she was right. I completely blew it. Continue reading “The Fast Lane”
Discussion of the demolition of the Park Avenue Hotel, as published by Deadline Detroit
“So devastating, but so controlled.” That was the eloquent observation of Uncle Nate, a homeless man and self-professed Detroit historian who summarized the demolition of the once-beautiful Italian Renaissance, Park Avenue Hotel Saturday morning. To him, the instantaneous obliteration of the massive, 13-story structure at 2643 Park Avenue in the Cass Corridor was a clear reminder of how much easier it is to destroy than to build. This is a truth that Detroit must reckon with every day, which is why it is so important to carefully consider what we allow to be taken away.
New York used to be the city with no past– beautiful edifices were sacrificed with minimal controversy to make way for the new and the better. New Yorkers who disagreed with such practices lamented the loses, but ultimately surrendered to their powerlessness to stop the forces of progress and change, the loss of something so irretrievable as a demolished building. That was, until, the original Penn Station was destroyed and replaced by the current iteration, which is to the old station what cardboard is to marble. Not coincidentally, the removal of Penn Station also made way for the construction of Madison Square Garden, the stale arena which is architecturally stale.
This was the final straw– New Yorkers, historians and architects organized to create the landmark preservation act, which was immediately used to protect Grand Central Station. It has been responsible for saving hundreds of historical structures since. It also paved the way for national preservationist movements of the same form. Continue reading “Another One Bites the Dust”
There is a movement building in Detroit, slowly building in power and purpose as it meanders through the streets of the city. It is not a protest or a new political party, it is not a tax break or a reality TV show, it is a bike ride. And though it has no manifesto, its purpose is clear: to bring people together through good old-fashioned fun.
Slow Roll is Detroit’s Monday night group bike ride in which thousands of pedalstrians come together to explore the city on a free bike ride. Throughout the route, riders share space with one another, explore new neighborhoods, and deepen their relationship with the city.