Detroit defends homes

From the new September-October 2013 issue of News & Letters:

Detroit defends homes

Detroit—Detroit Eviction Defense came out of the Direct Action Workgroup of Occupy Detroit about two years ago. We work with people who want to save their homes. We have saved about 60 so far. The group is sometimes sidetracked by asking for help from politicians who don’t come through, and that is what the homeowners see. Now some of them are coming back to the group to help others.

We did a two-month vigil this year. From 6 AM to 6 PM, people came out to the home. A third party had bought the house and wouldn’t sell it back to the owner, but then was willing to deal. A dumpster had been placed at one home but we were able to stave off the bailiffs and fill it with leaves. We have had campaigns in Southwest Detroit where we have marched on the banks and leafleted the neighborhood, informing residents that one of their neighbors’ homes was threatened with foreclosure. We pack court hearings.

We want to pull people in, so that they see others thinking creatively and begin to talk to each other about how to make their block safer.

Now we are looking at tax foreclosures, because although we have saved mortgages, the properties can still be foreclosed for back taxes. Very few people know that the state of Michigan has the Step Forward Program, which funds tax payments for qualified owners.

Metro Property Management refused to sell a woman’s home back to her. She had owned it for 36 years and fell behind because of cancer. Instead they offered to rent it to her for $1,000 a month! After our demonstrations, they not only sold it back, but asked us to stop giving them bad publicity!

They want to turn Detroit into a city of renters: the developers buy up huge numbers of houses, sell the properties overseas and then get paid to manage them, besides collecting rent. Huge profits are involved.

Detroit Eviction Defense is small but growing; we have had good support from the United Auto Workers union’s social justice committee and Local 600, but we remain an independent group.

What we do spreads; you cannot build a free society in a capitalist system but we can start re-envisioning. It is way past time for humanist values. People can learn to trust themselves by doing. It’s very powerful. Independent organizing has been key to our work. Self-organization, mutual aid, solidarity and respect are keeping us moving forward. Detroit Eviction Defense meets Thursdays at 6 PM at St. John’s Church, 2120 Russell St. (www.detroitevictiondefense.org)

—Miriam Pickens

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