Less obvious but increasingly dangerous has been the human price paid by the entire country for advancing capitalism by all means necessary. In the course of making a unique land of opportunity in which whites climb up the social ladder on the backs of blacks, the American people have become the most materialistic, the most opportunistic, the most individualistic—in sum, the most politically and socially irresponsible people in the world. Step by step, choice by choice, year after year, decade after decade, they have become the political victim of the system they themselves created, unable to make political decisions on the basis of principle no matter how crucial the issue is.
November 28th, 2017
Thinking for Ourselves
I recently received three emails that raised concerns about what is happening in our city. The first was about a young student at Wayne State. She is living in temporary housing, working full time, and going to school. She is looking for a place to live close enough to campus so she can either walk or take public transportation. The second email was about a family looking for a house because they are renting from an absentee landlord who is refusing to provide even minimal upkeep on the home, making it unsafe for a mother and her children. The third was from a grandmother who has recently taken custody of her grandchildren and now faces eviction from her building as children are not welcome there.
Each of these stories seems small in relation to the challenges we face as a city. But in more than 4 decades, I can count on one hand the number of people who have requested help in finding a home. Now I find three families in one week.
That was the same week as the City Council approved giving Dan Gilbert $250 million for the development of 4 new projects including a new skyscraper on the site of the former Hudson’s department store, a mixed use project on the Monroe Block, the renovation of Book Tower, and expansion of One Campus Martius. These four are considered one project in order to qualify for the special billion dollar pot of taxpayer money created at the state level though a package often called “Gilbert Bills,” because of his intense lobbying to establish the brownfields fund. Over a series of resident objections, the Council voted in favor of the project, accepting Gilbert’s argument that this will result in 24,000 jobs.
Only Councilperson, Raquel Castaneda-Lopez, had the courage to object. She used the opportunity to raise the question of tying the use of public funds to a real community benefits ordinance.
Such an ordinance and rethinking about development is urgent. Since the housing crisis of 2008 Detroit has shifted from a city of homeowners to one of predominantly renters. In the course of this shift there has been little thought to the implications of this or to the policy questions it raises. There has been little effort to tie development to affordable housing or to protect renters.
Even though many homes in Detroit are relatively inexpensive, the reality is that it is almost impossible to get a mortgage. If you do not have access to a lump sum of capital, home ownership is almost out of reach. Last year financial giants Bank of America made 18 mortgages and JP Morgan made 6. Dan Gilbert’s Quicken Loans made the most of anyone, coming in at 90.
As John Gallagher recently pointed out, the two most critical areas affecting home ownership are property taxes and water shutoffs. Both policies are driving people out of neighborhoods, creating downward spirals. And both policies could be reversed in ways that support people staying in their homes. Both Philadelphia and now Chicago have adopted water affordability plans that tie water rates to income, not usage. Such a plan has been long advocated in Detroit, but the Mayor stubbornly refuses to move toward this effort.
Others are raising the question of eliminating property taxes for homeowners all together. Currently they bring in less than 15% of our city’s revenue, yet do incalculable harm.
Over the next few weeks, Mayor Duggan is obligated to hold a number of public meetings. Asking what he doing to protect renters, make housing affordable, support a real community benefits policy, stop water shutoffs and keep people in their homes are critical for all of us.
Riverwise Magazine is a collective effort to highlight and strengthen grassroots movement activity throughout the city of Detroit. Former staff members of the Michigan Citizen Newspaper alongside active members of the James and Grace Lee Boggs Center for Nurturing Community Leadership launched the magazine in 2017 with an eye towards reporting on emerging movements, especially among communities of color.
Riverwise documents the people and places building a more equitable and just city. While government agencies lay down the red carpet for billionaire venture capitalists and corporate ‘tech’ headquarters, Detroit’s ‘underserved’ are projecting visions of a sustainable future.
With a distribution of 10,000 copies a quarter, we are encouraging new ways of thinking about our city in coffeehouses, barbershops, community centers and bookstores. Our work has been supported by a generous grant from the New Visions Foundation and individual donations. We anticipate being able to maintain the current level of funding for basic production for the coming year but we have depended on the volunteer work of authors and artists.
We are now calling on you, our growing readership, to help us support local writers and artists working with us to tell these remarkable stories. Their unique insights and abilities are essential to projecting new ideas and propelling us towards a more humane world.
Our commitment to expand the traditional role of a community publication is paramount to the mission of Riverwise magazine. We provide an independent, visionary voice about the challenges facing our city and our country. This campaign is one step towards aligning our funding structure with the communities we seek to engage.
The mainstream news media has all but neglected the humanitarian crisis in Puerto Rico. Data from Media Cloud, a database that collects news published on the Internet every day, shows that the devastation in Puerto Rico is getting relatively little attention from digital and cable news outlets compared to coverage of Hurricanes Irma and Harvey.
At the same time, relief for Puerto Ricans has been slow and insufficient. U.S. president Donald Trump dedicated a golf trophy to hurricane victims, and on his October 3rd visit to the island he suggested that hurricane Maria was not a “real catastrophe,” proceeding to throw toilet paper to a crowd of Puerto Ricans.
Please Support the Boggs Center
With each day we are reminded of the legacy of James and Grace Lee
Boggs as we see the seeds of their work across Detroit, our nation
and the globe, and in the work that you are doing to bring to life
This year we are thinking about centuries as we commemorated the 98th
birthday of James Boggs in May and Grace’s 102nd birthday in June.
Where will we be in 2117? What do we long for our world to become?
These questions are at the root of the work of resisting the
dehumanization of this present moment and our efforts to accelerate
visionary organizing throughout the country.
Over the next few months we plan to raise $100,000 for the
Place-based organizing of Feedom Freedom Growers, Birwood
–Fullerton and Field street initiatives: ($50,000)
Riverwise Magazine publication: ($40,000)
Boggs Center repairs. Archiving and meeting space improvements:
You can contribute directly at our website: –
www.boggscenter.org or mail a check to Boggs Center, 3061 Field
Street, Detroit, MI 48214.
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Your ongoing support is critical to us.