Some Good News for Low-Income Families Hoping for Homes in Cincy & Detroit

New Orleans       For lower income and working families in these days of escalating rents and no money flowing in the credit deserts, the old saying that if it “weren’t for bad news, there wouldn’t be any news at all” feels too much like an everyday story.  In Detroit and Cincinnati recently, there was some good news that should create some hope for some families trying to keep homes out of foreclosure or buy homes through installment land contracts.

The Detroit story is a hard one to get your arms around, like so many things in Detroit.  The topline is that a suit led by the ACLU reached a settlement with the City of Detroit that may allow some families to stay in their homes.  As the Detroit News summarized,

The ACLU sued the city in Wayne County Circuit Court two years ago over how it administered the state-mandated property tax break for the poor, arguing it was inaccessible to the vast majority of homeowners who were needlessly losing their homes to foreclosure.

To be clear, the city didn’t allow lower income families to get the property tax exemption approved in state law and instead tallied the delinquent property taxes for several years and then after being in arrears for more than three years, foreclosed on the houses and put them up for sale at tax auction.  Nothing pretty about that story.  It’s almost a Ripley “believe or not” tale.

The settlement forces the city to have to step up.  As the Detroit News reports:

Under the plan, a group of homes headed to this year’s fall tax auction will instead be bought by the city and sold to owner-occupants who prove they qualified for the city’s poverty tax exemption, which lowers or eliminates tax bills.

All good so far, though it gets tricky.  Families that can prove that they were wronged have to buy back the homes for $1000, which, frankly, I don’t understand at all.  The money they say is going to come from private foundations.  The whole affair is being administered by some fantastic folks the ACORN Home Savers Campaign was privileged to meet earlier in the campaign at the United Community Housing Coalition.  UCHC has already qualified about one-hundred families.  There are more than 4000 homes scheduled for the fall auction with over 2000 occupied by owners or renters, so of course there is concern that there may be more people trying to win justice under the settlement than there is money available from foundations, but fingers crossed.  This is still good news and the city can’t claim to be protecting home owners from foreclosure even while cheating them earlier so I’m sure there will be a fix if there’s a shortfall.

In Cincinnati, an ordinance was passed unanimously to assure that any house offered under an installment land contract had to first establish that it was up to code.  Given the history of how companies have operated there, this is also a good step forward.

In both cities these are steps forward and offer hope of more progress for lower income tenants, potential homeowners, and existing homeowners in the future.


Is Neighborhood Activism the Answer or Part of the Problem?

New Orleans    I can vividly remember an argument I listened to from the back of the room perhaps fifteen years ago at an ACORN Legislative Conference in Washington, D.C. where Robert Putnam, the Harvard sociologist and author of the often-cited book about the deterioration of community in American, Bowling Alone, was speaking. He argued his case for the  decline, but ACORN leaders from around the country adamantly disagreed with him during the Q&A.They told him about their organizations and what they had done in their neighborhoods and how ACORN’s community organizing had changed their lives and their communities. His theory was not their experience, and they let him know it! No minds were changed. Everyone was polite while holding their ground, but Professor Putnam certainly discovered he was not ensconced in the regal comfort of a Harvard seminar room that evening.

I wondered if his daughter was a fly on that wall when I read the following in an New York Times column by Michelle Goldberg,

Eighteen years ago, the Harvard political scientist Robert Putnam published “Bowling Alone,” a seminal book about the fraying of America’s civic fabric. It’s cheering that his daughter, Lara Putnam, a historian at the University of Pittsburgh, is now studying how these new grass-roots movements are weaving civil society back together, “People have stepped in to rebuild the local infrastructure of face-to-face political life in ways that have been super striking to observe,” she said.

What can I say but “hey, ACORN told your dad just so!”

Goldberg’s argument is that people at the grassroots level, especially women have dug in to fight on a door-to-door level in their neighborhoods as part of the Trump resistance. My fingers are crossed but this is complicated. Eight state legislatures that have held their  election primaries already would be composed of a majority of women, if  all of the women won in the general election.That’s good news, too, but many of the states like Nevada, North Carolina, and South Dakota where this could happen are not calling for a wave of reform, but a deepening reaction. Arizona where 40% of the legislators are already women is a good example of the fact that moss doesn’t just grow on the backs on men when you look at their record of anti-immigrant, anti-women legislation, despite expanding Medicaid.

Another cautionary note can be found by monitoring the super-local social-media platform, Nextdoor, which is now in 180,000 US neighborhoods including more than 90% in the 25 largest cities. With coffeehouses in several changing neighborhoods, we monitor the local Nextdoor postings and the local neighborhood listservs, and to the degree, as a piece in The Atlantic recently observed, these sites “are becoming representations of the country’s actual populations,” they are very scary. A couple of African-American teens walking in these areas in hoodies triggers a clarion call to neighbors as these new neighborhood “watch” websites become almost a SWAT team alert. And, this is in the majority African-American city of New Orleans!

Yes, community organizations and their activist members and leaders are a huge part of the answer, but only if they are truly organized so that real community is actually built and worst impulses are shuffled to the side and off of the agenda. Without organization, your guess is not as good as mine, where they might head.


Please enjoy Ida Clare’s No Time Like the Present.

Thanks to KABF.