A Citizen’s Lament

Another newspaper has died in Detroit. Like so many others before it, The Michigan Citizen succumbed to the uncompromising economics of modern news, where corporations won’t pay for unflattering content and readers don’t pay for any. As print media wanes, electronic media flourishes. This tradeoff may appear to be more democratic – anyone can contribute to the internet- but print media, while it has fewer sources, may actually be more likely to represent the people. The reason is that when readers don’t pay for content, corporations do, and the internet can be a surprisingly narrow place to find your news.

IMG_0959 Continue reading “A Citizen’s Lament”

Blight Bungle

5710 senecaWith a click of a button, over 6,000 Detroit properties were purchased Tuesday for just over $500 apiece. The bidding on this “blight bundle” marked the finale of an auction process whose outcome surprised local government which had scripted a much different ending.

The properties were up for auction because of a Michigan state law that mandates foreclosure for all properties owing three years or more of back taxes. In Wayne County, that amounted to 24,000 properties this year alone.

The auction happened in two phases: In Round 1, all properties are available for a starting price equal to the amount owed in back taxes. Unsold properties make it into Round 2, where the starting price is only $500.

In other words, Round 1 is where the county makes its money back – and Round 2 is where the county takes what it can get.

Local government can’t change these rules, but it can manipulate them to its own advantage. In Round 2 this year, over 6,000 unrelated properties were combined into what was termed a “blight bundle,” in a joint effort by the City of Detroit and the Wayne County Treasurer. Continue reading “Blight Bungle”

Joy Ride

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.

Continue reading “Joy Ride”

Foreclosed is Forewarned

Tax Foreclosures on 10,000 Occupied Detroit Properties will Displace Thousands

On Monday, U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Steven Rhodes made a landmark decision to authorize continued water shutoffs for unpaid water bills, leaving thousands of Detroiters without access to water. At the same time, though less reported, some 20,000 Detroit residents stand to lose another basic human right — their housing — as the Wayne County Treasurer prepares to carry out mass tax foreclosures across the city.

In October, the Wayne County Treasurer will host an online auction to sell properties whose owners owe back taxes. According to the county website, over 26,000 properties are up for auction, over 90% of which are in Detroit.

Of these, 23,000 made it into Round 2 – where auction prices start at a mere $500. These aren’t just empty lots and vacant buildings; rather, an estimated 10,000 are occupied properties, which means that at least 20,000 people face imminent eviction.


Unopened Tax Foreclosure notice on an abandoned house in Detroit’s Littlefield neighborhood. Motor City Mapping indicated that nearly half of the properties in this neighborhood (3,840) are unoccupied.

Continue reading “Foreclosed is Forewarned”

Preview: 2014 Detroit Foreclosure Auction

detroit scene

This week, 24,000 Detroit properties that owe taxes to the city will begin the process of being auctioned off to the highest bidder. The annual event takes on a greater meaning this year as it is running concurrently with Detroit’s bankruptcy trial which also began this week. The auction is the personal version of the city’s financial troubles, showing on-the-ground evidence of the individual struggles which resulting in people’s inability to pay for their property. Looking at the map of foreclosed parcels gives a powerful image of economic disparity — the concentration of foreclosures in neighborhoods like Warrendale is shockingly high, while Corktown boasts a whopping total of Zero. Interested buyers have the chance to purchase a piece of Detroit for what are often very reasonable prices.

The auction is based on property parcels, which may include homes, apartment complexes, commercial buildings and even empty lots in various states of care or disrepair. Most of these properties have buildings on them, and many of those buildings are homes to the current owners, renters, and in some cases, squatters.

The annual foreclosure auction is a powerful force of change for a number of reasons. It offers a burst of revenue for a city that sorely needs it. It encompasses the dream of home ownership for many who could not otherwise afford it. It draws the attention of outside investors with an optimistic view of Detroit. And it also represents a devastating blow to those who face displacement when the place they own or rent is no longer theirs to call home.

The Numbers
The numbers here are absolutely daunting and the reality of what they represent is even more so. After this auction, the Detroit Land Bank Authority will own approximately 100,000 properties. Many of those are too undesirable (think fire-charred blighted homes, dumping sites, entire empty blocks) to even be included in this auction. The properties that are included make up the sub-set of more viable properties (a relative term) that the city has a chance to recoup some money on, and to have taken off their hands.

Screen Shot 2014-09-04 at 2.12.55 AM

Screen Shot 2014-09-04 at 11.01.11 PM

Screen Shot 2014-09-04 at 2.18.03 AM

How It Works
Round 1 of the auction runs from today, September 4, through Wednesday, September 24. During this period, bidding prices start at whatever amount is owed in property taxes. Any properties that are unsold after this round will go up for auction again in Round 2 which begins in mid-October, where bidding will start at only $500. The bidding for an individual parcel happens over a 2-week period, so properties released for auction today will not fully close until September 17th.

Timing for the bidding is based on batches- groups of 125 properties grouped together by Zip Code. Each batch is released for bidding at staggered 15-minute intervals throughout a week-long period. Some of the most coveted neighborhoods are up for bidding first, including Brush Park, which has drawn a lot of real-estate attention with the announcement of the expanded “sports district” in the area.

Most of the bidding will take place at the end of the two-week period, when the feeding frenzy of last-minute wagers come in. A similar process happened in the final hours before the auction itself, as current owners scrambled to sell or pay off properties before they were foreclosed.IMG_4271

Your Role
If you even think you might be interested in participating, register with the Wayne County Treasurer, there is no cost to register, just to bid. Research the property in advance before you purchase, hidden fees, renovation costs and complications with potential existing residents justifiably make these properties more expensive than their initial price tag. And if you do buy, congratulations, good luck!


Information, Registration, and Bidding: Wayne County Treasurer
Detailed assessment on each property Why Don’t We Own This?

Parking Violated: Death by a Thousand Papercuts

ticket in window

Think twice before you drive into downtown Detroit. It’s not that you’ll be carjacked or get lost on our bewildering road network, but you will get ripped off if you deign to park here. Under Emergency Manager Kevin Orr’s recent ordinance, you will be forced to pay $45 for the offense of an expired parking meter.[1] In one fell swoop, Orr increased fines for all parking violations and removed the 10-day reduced rate window. The outcome is penalty hikes of up to 450 percent.

Let’s put that into context. For someone making minimum wage (currently $7.40/hr in Michigan)[2], it would take a full day of work just to pay off this parking ticket. Remember that Detroit is the city where people are choosing between their water bills (otherwise it’ll get shut off), their property taxes (otherwise the city will take your house) or mortgage payments (otherwise the bank will take your house). The fine is that much more excessive for the reported 23 percent of Detroiters who are unemployed (that’s 6 points higher than the next-worst city on the list)[3]. And even if you are a lucky soul with a decent income, just imagine driving up to one of the few remaining downtown shops to purchase a $3 coffee, a $10 lunch or a $15 t-shirt and then facing a $45 parking ticket when you return to your car. You aren’t likely to take that risk again- better to shop at the mall or order online. Continue reading “Parking Violated: Death by a Thousand Papercuts”

Postscript: Big City, Small World

vanYes, I recovered from that very compelling fantasy about apprehending the bad guys. But that doesn’t exactly mean that I was avoiding it. Yesterday on a bike ride near-but-n0t-at the scene of the crime, I saw that sinister gold van. Whatwhatwhatwhatwhatwhathwhat? WHAT?! For the second time in a week, I stared dumbly at the parking lot in front of me, unable to process what I was seeing. I hadn’t actually seen the van at the time of the theft but there is no mistaking a “gold van with black flames on the back.” This was it.

Continue reading “Postscript: Big City, Small World”

You Robbed the Right Girl

Screen Shot 2014-07-29 at 2.02.26 AM

Every time I play soccer, I have to do a handstand. The combination of competition and a field of grass makes me overflow with excitement so I send myself upside-down to tip a little out, to commemorate the joy. Soccer just makes me happy. So the first thing I did when I moved to Detroit last October was join a soccer team. Actually, I joined three teams — only one of them lasted through the winter.

I am a proud member of Roosevelt Parks soccer team. Our soccer season is a veritable tour of the best of Detroit: we practice at old Tiger’s Stadium, we play pick-up beside the beautiful abandoned train station, we scrimmage on Belle Isle, and play our games at Fort Wayne with freighters slowing inching by along the Detroit River.

Soccer has been the most unexpected and rewarding part of my new life in this city. Unexpected because I honestly didn’t even know if Detroit had a recreational soccer league when I moved here — I thought I might start one myself. Unexpected because it not only exists, it thrives — Detroit City Football League is a finely-tuned community soccer machine. Unexpected because I not only met my teammates, I met dozens of people on other teams as well. Rewarding because I fucking love every minute of it.

Continue reading “You Robbed the Right Girl”

Trying to Let it Out

When I got married at the very young age of 21, I meant every word in my vows. When we celebrated our 5th anniversary, I thought we might someday celebrate our 50th. Divorce was not a milestone either of us ever expected to reach. So when I moved out of the apartment my husband and I shared, it was confusing and traumatic and deeply painful for both of us. Only weeks later, I was in a serious car accident. Heading to a New Year’s Eve party along the oceanfront Pacific Coast Highway in LA, the car I was in slammed into the side of another car making a poorly-timed left turn across our lane. We were incredibly lucky: everyone was wearing their seat-belt, no one was intoxicated, no one was driving above the speed limit, and no one was seriously injured. Except me. Continue reading “Trying to Let it Out”