Thursday, October 23, 2014

The problem with Detroit: Too many poor homeowners

Posted By on Thu, Oct 23, 2014 at 5:10 PM

The piece in the Atlantic by Rose Hackman got us thinking: If you look at the various decisions made for Detroit on the state level, they're all somewhat defensible, individually, but have any of them benefited Detroit's hard-done-by homeowners who've stuck it out when the city has been at its lowest ebb? We're talking about those people in what journalists glibly call "the neighborhoods," people who often mow vacant lots, pay for a light out front to brighten an unlit street, people who've endured life with high crime, poor emergency response times, troubled schools, and concentrations of social ills. When is the cavalry coming to offer help for these people?

As the piece by Hackman pointed out, there is help available, lots of it, but it's for the people of means who'd like to move into the city. For longtime residents, among them many poor and elderly, there are only strict new rules. Can't pay your water bill? (Even though the water department admits it has screwed up and overcharged people?) It's getting tacked onto your property taxes? Can't pay your property taxes? You're going to have to "hit Eight Mile."

Seems there was a time, not so long ago, when help was on the way. Five years ago, the feds set up the Hardest Hit Fund to help underwater and near-underwater homeowners refinance their mortgages in some of the areas hardest hit by the collapse of housing values. We were heartened when $100 million of that money was earmarked for endangered homeowners in Michigan, to help people stay in their communities, in their homes.

Unfortunately, Michigan officials asked the feds if, instead of using that money to help people stay in their homes, could use $100 million on demolitions instead. That decision sold well at the time, but, in hindsight, it has a very unseemly appearance. It's almost as if state officials want Detroiters to be ousted from their homes.

When help was on the way, the folks calling the shots said, "Thanks for the offer to help our poor keep their homes. We'd rather use the money to demolish the homes foreclosures leave behind."

Viewed that way, is it any surprise journalists, critics, and activists are sensing that the real problem, in the eyes of the power brokers, is that Detroit simply has too many poor homeowners?


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