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Thursday, October 23, 2014

Atlantic: Disquieting Undertones to Detroit's Foreclosure Problems

Posted By on Thu, Oct 23, 2014 at 9:44 AM

A very intelligent piece in the Atlantic this week breaks down the problems in the Detroit area in a way few local news outlets would dare. It points out that a number of factors at play in Detroit are working together to push out longtime, mostly African American residents who've toughed it out through Detroit's worst times, all while a group of mostly Caucasian newcomers are showered with enticements and subsidies to move in.

The piece rightly points out that, viewed against the backdrop of metro Detroit's race and class history and the way eminent domain has hurt the most vulnerable, at the very least it doesn't look good. At the very worst, the piece suggests it may be a continuation of a process most local media in Detroit remain mute about, unless they're praising the way Martin Luther King Jr. or Rosa Parks "ended" it.

One eye-popping bit of news that even surprised us was this: 

After their basement had a water leak, Esters was hit with a $4,000 water bill she was unable to pay. The debt was transferred over to her property taxes—a common practice, one that links Detroit's water-shutoff crisis directly to these foreclosures. When her house was foreclosed on this year by Wayne County's treasurer, she owed more than $12,000 in taxes, a bill that had skyrocketed because of fees and an 18 percent yearly interest rate. The sum was unreachable for Esters and her family, as was any payment plan made available to her.  

Sure, it's not a conspiracy. It's just the same old story of shit running downhill. But when utilities play hardball with consumers by sticking water bills on their taxes, it has an, ahem, unwholesome appearance. Take, for instance, the situation in New Orleans in the wake of 2005's Hurricane Katrina. Some of that area's leaders seemed absolutely delighted that, after the natural disaster, a larger percentage of white homeowners moved back than black homeowners. In September 2005, the Washington Post quoted Baton Rouge Congressman Richard H. Baker as telling lobbyists, "We finally cleaned up public housing in New Orleans. We couldn't do it, but God did." Are metro Detroit's leaders excited that, in the wake of Detroit's financial disaster, the complexion and class makeup of the city will literally change?

These questions are cause for worry. Many thanks to Rose Hackman for bringing them up.

By the way, it ought to be a source of shame to Detroit's news organizations that some of the best reporting about what's happening in Detroit is coming not from the dailies or the newscasts, but a British journalist covering Detroit for an East Coast magazine. 


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