A major push is underway to drive even more oppressed and working people from the city
On June 13 demonstrators rallied outside the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department (DWSD) located downtown. This day represented the sixth in a series of “Freedom Fridays” where people have been protesting against the wholesale attacks on workers, retirees, youth and community residents through an orchestrated financial emergency and forced bankruptcy.
Several weeks before the Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr, who was appointed by Gov. Rick Snyder, retained a private firm to begin the shutoffs of thousands of households’ water services. Anyone who owed over $150 dollars would be subject to service termination, actions which violate DWSD policies and imperils communities consisting of children, seniors, people with disabilities and the working poor.
After gathering at the DWSD headquarters for a picket line and rally, the demonstrators marched toward the financial district to draw the link between the economic crisis and bankruptcy with the role of Quicken Loans, Bank of America, Chase Bank, Charter One and other culprits in the system of predatory lending in both mortgage and municipal finance.
Housing Is A Right Too!
In route to the financial district the marchers walked past 65 Cadillac Square where hidden away in obscure offices on the 32nd and 28th floors is the Detroit Land Bank Authority (DLBA), a so-called quasi-governmental agency formed in 2008. For the last several years the DLBA has ostensibly been concerned with the acquisition of tax-foreclosed properties that number in the tens of thousands.
Despite the existence of hundreds of millions of dollars in federal government monies to address the impact of the Great Recession which began in 2007, these funds have never been fully utilized in tackling the crisis. The Moratorium NOW! Coalition held a demonstration as far back as 2010 demanding that these funds be released to keep people in their homes throughout the state.
Other programs utilizing this funding are purportedly geared towards providing relief to the tens of thousands of households that face foreclosure each year because they cannot pay the municipal and county property taxes. The bureaucratic approach by the state government in Lansing has resulted in the failure of these funds being spent on those who need them.
Consequently, it has recently been reported that approximately 84,000 structures and lots within the city are considered blighted or abandoned. A Detroit Blight Removal Authority (DBRA) was established last year to address the removal of these properties which include abandoned factories, warehouses, businesses, apartment buildings and homes.
This Authority was headed by Bill Pulte, the 26-year-old grandson of the owner of the nation’s largest home builder whose headquarters is located in Bloomfield Hills, one of the wealthiest suburbs in the United States. Since the ascendancy of Mayor Mike Duggan in January his office has taken over this project by setting up yet another outfit this time called the Detroit Blight Removal Task Force (DBRTF) that is directed by Dan Gilbert, Chairman of Quicken Loans, one of the largest landlords in the city owning some 50 buildings in downtown.
This Blight Removal Task Force hired a private mapping firm which is traveling throughout the city identifying properties to be seized and possibly razed. Any home considered vacant or blighted in various communities have been pasted with signs threatening the owners that if they do not contact the DLBA within three days that seizure activity will commence through law suits that challenge the title ownership of the buildings.
These actions are being carried out in total disregard of the existing city ordinances which regulate code violations and blight removal. However, since the Emergency Manager’s authority supersedes that of the City Council and the Mayor, the state-imposed structures are making determinations about how communities will be restructured.
In a recent City Council hearing in mid-June it was revealed that the DLBA was in control of 17,000 properties in Detroit, making them the largest landlords in the municipality. This agency operating outside the public view and being directed through the DBRTF by billionaire loan magnet Dan Gilbert can in no way genuinely benefit the people of Detroit.
In a New York Times article published on May 28 its says that “The blight study, which is perhaps the most elaborate survey of decay conducted in any large American city, found that 30 percent of buildings, or 78,506 of them, scattered across the city’s 139 square miles, are dilapidated or heading that way. It found that 114,000 parcels — about 30 percent of the city’s total — are vacant. And it found that more than 90 percent of publicly held parcels are blighted.”
This same article quoted Gilbert who opined “Blight is a cancer. Blight sucks the soul out of anyone who gets near it.”
Nonetheless in the 341-page report issued by the DBRTF there is no mention of the role of the banks, the federal and state governments in the destruction of the housing industry in Detroit. Gilbert, who owns Quicken Loans and other firms are part of the problem in the city and can in no way lead an effective campaign aimed at genuine reconstruction.
What is also revealing about the DBRTF is that President Barack Obama is credited with spearheading the effort. The White House had summoned business leaders last year to discuss ways in which the federal government could assist in the restructuring of the city, which has the largest African American population per capita in the U.S.
In addition, over $400 million in these same federal monies through the “hardest hit” fund will be utilized not to keep people in their homes or foster refurbishing of these locations to the benefit of the people who live there but to target communities for further seizure and dislocation. The fact that leading interests in corporate Detroit are heading such an effort speaks volumes in regard to the overall agenda of the project.
Gilbert has essentially been given buildings in the downtown area forcing the relocation of city departments in a program to change the composition of the central district. Rents have been increased and private security firms patrol the area to monitor demonstrations and other activities not endorsed by the corporate interests and their agents in government.
Militant Action Required to Reverse Attacks
All of these issues must be addressed in the broader fight back taking place in the city against emergency management and the forced bankruptcy. No decision has been made by the federal court on the so-called “Plan of Adjustment” put forward on behalf of the banks by EM Orr and Snyder, nonetheless, the thrust towards privatization is moving forward at rapid pace.
Almost every day Orr and Snyder are telling retirees, workers and other “creditors” in the bankruptcy that they should vote yes on the “Plan of Adjustment.” However, the Stop the Theft of Our Pensions Committee (STOPC), the Moratorium NOW! Coalition and other community-based groups are calling for a no vote.
These organizations are marching and chanting through downtown saying “Make the Banks Pay.” It is the financial institutions, the auto companies and real estate magnates that have looted the resources of Detroit and other cities throughout the U.S.
Only the massive mobilization and organization of the nationally oppressed and workers in Detroit, who constitute the overwhelming majority within the city, can halt the current attacks and put forward a genuine “Peoples’ Plan of Adjustment” that would mandate the creations of jobs, the maintenance of public assets, including schools, and for the holding of those responsible for the destruction of Detroit and other cities accountable for their crimes against the people.
Mr. Abayomi Azikiwe, Editor, Pan-African News Wire, is one of the frequent contributors for The 4th Media.