Proposal N is a bad plan with bad timing and we must vote No
This November Mike Duggan will ask Detroit voters to give him the go ahead to borrow $250 million in order to address the blighted homes in Detroit by restoring a small number of homes and tearing down many more. No one who’s spent any amount of time in Detroit thinks that removing and restoring blighted properties is a bad idea, but the details of that plan will tell us who will benefit from these changes and who will be asked and then told to leave.
Can We Really Trust Mike Duggan With This Money?
The Duggan administration has been spending city, state, and federal money to clear blight since the beginning of his first term and until the end of last year it was pretty hard to know how it was going beyond anecdotes. As of last November, we have good reason to believe it’s going quite badly.
The Detroit Auditor General delivered an in depth exploration of 47 demolitions showing rampant financial and safety violations in the the demolition work that has been completed so far. The administration response has been largely to question the competence of the Auditor General instead of respond to the substance of the issue. They assert the Auditor General is using old data, but fail to provide updated records in a timely manner.
It’s not a coincedence that when this report came to light, the city council voted down the first iteration of this proposal and only passed it the second time when a pandemic made public feedback nearly impossible and required the vote of a council person on his way to plead guilty to taking bribes in office
The Duggan administration is not interested in oversight to protect our neighborhoods from asbestos and polluted soil when blighted homes come down. He is laser focused on what is expedient, not what is right.
Is This A Good Use of $250 Million?
This plan was developed before, and only superficially revised after, Covid-19 changed all of our lives and does not hold up in the world we live in today.
We had a budget surplus and reasons to be optimistic. We were finally out of receivership. We had a bond rating that made investments in the city that much more plausible.
Now we have sky rocketing un-employment, city revenue plummeting, and no shortage of uncertainty in nearly every part of our lives. Detroiters cannot commit themselves to this kind of debt without good answers to the hard questions of how our city will find it’s way through this pandemic.
What Happens After The Houses Are Gone?
This approach is not a new idea. We’ve been attempting “urban renewal” by various names since the Fair Housing Act was passed in the 1960s. We see a government faced with what it believes is an insurmountable problem, one that they lack the capital to fix by fiat. They reach out to the private market, America’s one stop shop to fix anything you can imagine.
The details of what happens when that private market gets to work has evolved and will continue to evolve. In the past it was effectively a strip mining operation. They moved into Americas urban centers to sell homes that no one could safely live in to people who didn’t have the means to defend themselves, only to snatch them back via foreclosure. In recent decades this has evolved into a more advanced form, following foreclosure, properties are converted to rentals, awaiting enough consolidated property to shift gears to “re-development”. This necessitates the mass displacement of that population of renters and selling those homes to a young and affluent clientel seeking an urban setting. This phenomenom is explored in depth in the work of Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor.
The most vulnerable among us are displaced early in this process, losing their homes, scattered to wherever they can find housing on short notice. As the process moves along it touches all of us. We might own our homes, pay our bills, and do the right things, but this kind of process reminds us that our homes are not islands. The blight all around us didn’t just happen. This round of blight was kicked off by predatory loans followed by illegal overassesments by the city and county. People who owned their homes, who followed the rules, had what was rightfully theirs taken away. We can chart the course of every Anerican city that has gone down this path and see that being displaced later is cold comfort.
For those that manage to avoid being displaced, or those doing the displacement, you and your children will be forced to reckon with the poisoned soil left behind by a private market with no obligation to the long term well being of any community. There is no part of this proposal allocated to dealing with the environmental damage that’s already been done and very little in the way of effective oversight to prevent it from happening again.
A plan where success means building a new city where Detroit used to be, with none of the people that define what Detroit is today still living there, is not a plan that we can afford.