Port Ouvert

Before the media and the politicians got ahold of the collective fear consciousness following last week’s attacks in Paris, individuals reacted naturally in the most vulnerable yet most generous way possible– by opening their doors and homes to strangers seeking shelter from the violence outside. How did the spontaneous hosts know whether or not to trust their guests? It seems unlikely that they were all equipped with sophisticated mobile retina-scanning record-checking intention-evaluating devices. But the alternative is even more inconceivable– a reckless act of hospitality. Only a suicidal sap would welcome a stranger in their home on the city’s most violent night in 3 generations? As the terror subsides and better judgment forms, leaders across the western world have adopted a much more appropriate response of blind prejudice, sweeping antagonism and tightly shut doors.

We would be fools not to respond to violence with preventative measures, and we would be insane not to learn from the circumstances that led to it, but we have as much to learn from our instincts for compassion as from any “intelligence” finding. The terrifying truth is, that we can’t truly prevent violence, and any policy that perpetuates that fantasy is a mistake. Violence is not a communicable disease that can be stamped out by breaking the pump of a single well, it’s best antidote actually comes from increased interactions between people.

The root of all violence is imbalance and as nations with more power, more resources and more wealth, we will be perpetual targets unless or until we correct the skew. Rather than relinquish our grip, however, we focus our efforts on building walls and closing doors, creating dark pockets and miserable purgatory for refugees that act as breeding grounds for suffering and hate. A person’s willingness to leave everything and risk what’s left to seek shelter in behind the walls of a stranger’s home is evidence enough of their desperate circumstances, and is reason enough to leave the door wide open.

Taking Advantage of Detroit

MetroTimes Repost

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.

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”

The Right Size

in Detroit, Michigan, United States on November 18, 2014.

They used to call it downsizing
-but that wasn’t very popular-
So then they called it “Right Sizing”
-but everyone knew it was the same thing-
And then they started calling it “Future City”
-but still we knew better.
And so, they didn’t say anything.
Silently they issued yellow tax foreclosure notices
And water shut-off trucks by the thousands
Like a drone strike time bomb.
“That’ll do the trick.”
You can’t hear them but if you’re paying attention you’ll know
that there are active forces of relocation and de-neighborization and gentrification
And this is not eminent domain, there are no relocation checks,
This is “your fault” and “don’t let the door hit you on the way out.”

Tear the buildings down once they’re gone and now we’re on
to a fresh start without those pesky people.
The perfect plan for a city trying to lose a little weight.

Now wait, this wouldn’t be so frustrating if it weren’t for the fact that there is a way out.
A really good, really reasonable way out.
You can buy it in the auction.
You can get your home and a fresh start for $500
But not if you don’t know about it.
Not if you don’t even know to look
Because you don’t have the internet and if you did, how would you buy a house with it?
Because your landlord wants to keep getting that check every month so he tells you “it’s all taken care of”
Because you’ve been paying your mortgage every month so why would there be any kind of trouble?
Because you never got a tax bill to begin with let alone a foreclosure notice,
let alone a solution
Because every time you went downtown to get answers they pointed to a number with four zeros behind it and said that was on you to pay
and that’s the only way

In the auction, there is no guarantee
You might get outbid in the first minute,
You might get a lesson in reality estate:
“didn’t you hear this neighborhood is hot?
didn’t you know Detroit is coming back?”
But at least this way
you had a seat at the table
at least this time
you were a participant in your own fate.

So that’s why we’re out there talking.
We start on the doorstep with some Good News.
Not that kind,
but the kind that says you could own that house
that you call home.
You could break that cycle of a landlord who doesn’t give a shit
Or the bankers who, like wizards, change their LLCs or their T&Cs and leave you no choice but to sign or walk
to an uncertain future maybe in a city that will treat you better
your baby’s toys left behind in the winter snow
We’re out here because there’s a way out
There’s a way to stay put instead of move out

There’s a way to get a deed with your name on it and some pinch of security
That you do belong
And yes enroll your kids in school,
say hello to the neighbors,
touch the earth of the garden
and for god’s sake fix those stairs.
You don’t even need good credit.
But you do need to know.
And I sure hope you answer when we knock on your door.

Houses full of families?
Families safe in homes?
Small faces at the windowsill
warm bodies in the beds.
That sounds like a Detroit worth staying in.
That sounds like the right size to me.

Another One Bites the Dust

Discussion of the demolition of the Park Avenue Hotel, as published by Deadline Detroit

View of the Park Avenue Hotel through the construction fence, shortly before it was demolished
View of the Park Avenue Hotel through the construction fence, shortly before it was demolished

“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”

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”

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.

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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?