Thinking for ourselves
By Shea Howell
Moving out, moving in
September 19, 2015
On a quiet street on the east side of Detroit last week a family moved out of their home due to foreclosure. Another family moved in. It sounds simple enough. It is a scene that is familiar to Detroiters. Over the last decade 1 in 3 Detroit properties, 140,000 homes, have been foreclosed because of mortgage defaults or unpaid taxes. Recently, some of these homes are getting “new owners.”
But there was nothing simple about this moment. The family moving in arrived at the home a day early. The family moving out had given my friend, their neighbor, the key to the house. They asked her to take a bookcase and a few items that they could not fit in their next home. The family moving in accused my friend of “scrapping.” Then things got worse. Unwilling to admit they were “early,” the new family called the police. Two officers showed up, sided with the early arrivals and threatened to arrest my friend if she would not surrender the key to the house. She politely gave them a firm “no.”
As things escalated, my friend called the Coalition Against Police Brutality and continued to assert her right to be in the home. Other officers arrived and finally looked at the paper work. Those who wanted to move in were in fact “early” and had no legal right to be on the property. The “current owner” had given permission to my friend to remove personal items. The “new owners” were trespassing.
Everybody went their own way and my friend moved the book case. What could have been an escalating situation was patiently worked through because my friend is a long time community activist, used to moving from conflict to resolution. The Coalition was able to offer support and help clarify legal responsibilities.
But now we are left with the fragile ties of a community under assault. The first act of the “new neighbors” was to call the police on a well respected community activist. The new neighbors are claiming a home that became empty only because of forceful eviction. They were willing to draw upon state violence to secure a property they have yet to own. How, as they move in, will they be able to establish relationships that will build community? Do they think at all of the family they have displaced? Do they have any idea of the community dynamics they have disrupted? How can they now become a part of a community that is healthy and growing?
These questions are emerging everywhere in our city today. Surrounding them are more questions about the intentional role of banks in creating the foreclosure crisis, intentional policies in the city to accelerate tax foreclosures, and the intentional refusal of city, country and state leaders to recognize the human catastrophe they are fostering.
Everyone is aware that that Detroit is becoming whiter and wealthier downtown and in some selected neighborhoods. Last year for the first time in a half a century Detroit’s white population grew by 8,000 people. Most of these new arrivals are not coming into vacant spaces. They are helping to displace thousands of long time Detroit residents. Many of them are older African Americans.
Such dynamics in redeveloping our city are not natural processes. They are the product of choice. Systems, policies and practices are driving out many of us. They are decisions that inflame neighborhood relations and destroy communities.
If we are to create a new city, we need to stop all evictions, all water shut offs, all rent increases and ask the simple question of how do we rebuild a city that includes everyone? This is our urgent question.