I’ve been feeling overwhelmed, scattered, and powerless lately. The sensation blows through my body and spirit as a weather front, linked with the ominous fear of something even worse on the news horizon. Finding myself looking inward, I keep questioning if any action will be enough. These problems we’re wrestling with as a community are bigger than any one person, or even small group of dedicated folks like DJJ, can solve. The mass foreclosure, auction, and displacement crisis in Wayne County is one such challenge.
On a sunny Saturday a few weeks ago, some DJJ-niks took a long walk about on the city’s northeast side. The United Community Housing Coalition trained us to go door-knocking, sharing information and resources with those residents whose homes are in foreclosure. The homes we visited were each on the list for sale in the September Wayne County Tax Foreclosure Auction - all told, approximately 4,000 occupied homes will be sold to highest bidder this year. This work was enabled by Loveland Technologies - who created a mobile-app-based interactive map of every land parcel in the city of Detroit. This app is an example of community-supported technology - the survey itself was populated with information collected by a team of civilian-canvassers a few years ago, and its detail and ease of use enabled hundreds of community members to take to the streets, reaching thousands of the at-risk residents this Spring.
We shared information of lower-interest payment plans, renters’ rights, and directed everyone to UCHC for further support.
Many of the doors we knocked-on were of vacant houses - each with its own untold story of displaced owners. We spoke with dozens of residents - mostly renters, with no idea that their landlords were delinquent on property taxes. There were a few distraught and a few resigned homeowners, who expressed both gratitude for the information and sorrow for the state of things. One homeowner, perched on her porch and pointing across the street to the vacant and burned-out homes on her block, said, “I know what happens when houses get foreclosed, this is nothing new.”
Long-time Detroiters and neighborhood residents have had a front-row seat to this failure of government and subsequent exodus. Much has been written about the predatory lending, land contracts, property tax assessments, and civic policy that created this crisis of mass displacement. I’m grateful to the UCHC for supporting those residents under threat. What I learned on our long Saturday walk is that a small act, when linked to the community’s needs, can fuel the inner fire for this work. I went to bed that night with more hope than I woke up with. It was really a small thing. We are capable of so much more, I know this. Let’s do it together.
Susannah Goodman is a potter, teaching artist, arts administrator and arts advocate. A program manager with Southwest Detroit-based community arts nonprofit Living Arts, Susannah also manages Ladybug Studios, a ceramics makerspace and co-operative gallery in Southwest Detroit. She also sits on the state arts council, the Michigan Council for Arts and Cultural Affairs. Jewishly, Susannah is a lifelong member of Congregation T’Chiyah in Oak Park, a board member at the Isaac Agree Downtown Synagogue, and serves on the Steering Committee with Detroit Jews for Justice.