If you know Detroit, then you are already angry about the housing crisis. You have driven through neighborhoods where there are only a handful of inhabited homes, or watched children walk past abandoned buildings on their way to school. During Sukkot, Dr. Bernadette Atuahene joined us in R. Alana’s sukkah to tell us where we can channel some of that anger.
The laws surrounding tax foreclosures are complex and inaccessible to homeowners, to the point that the state can break them and get away with it. Our so-called representatives have also been able to control the narrative, to shift the blame to residents as if anyone would choose this. As a law professor and leader of the Coalition to End Unconstitutional Tax Foreclosures, Dr. Atuahene was able to explain why our current system will never meet Detroit’s needs. As an activist, she is willing to call out illegal practices and name the individuals who so brazenly throw their own constituents under the bus. She identifies this particular crisis as one part of a broader effort to displace African American people in the United States.
Sukkot was a poignant time to have a conversation about housing. Our sukkahs are temporary structures, building them and then taking them down is a practice we kept to revisit a time when Jews were the ones who had been displaced and needed to find alternative housing. We carry these painful parts of our history because we need to remember our own resilience, and because the lessons we’ve learned along the way are still relevant. As Jews in and around Detroit, we are consistently being exposed to different versions of the displacement story. Here it is being carried out in our presence, in Palestine it is being carried out in our name.
A sukkah is a home that isn’t meant to last, but it gives us a space to reflect on what is permanent—or in this case, what should be stable but isn’t. We have responsibilities in the communities we choose to align with. In Detroit this means ensuring that our neighborhoods are strong and that sustainable housing is not only available to the privileged.