#dismantlingdetroit

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Over the next year, the Urban Praxis Workshop is featuring two speculator owned Detroit properties per week. These images will appear on our social media feeds with an initial post on Instagram @urbanpraxiswork, on the Urban Praxis Workshop Facebook page, and a link to the Instagram post on Twitter. We hope you will follow and add to the conversation on these speculators and their properties. Posts will begin on Sept. 11, 2018.

Each photo includes the property address, speculator name, the companies they do business as, and the number of properties owned in the city. Where available we have included quotes about their practices, a review from a tenant, or the speculators own words on their business. The images were taken in the summer of 2018 by Urban Praxis Workshop members. We drove over 350 driving miles in the city. The work is based on speculator data by Property Praxis. Their data is based on City of Detroit Assessor information and Wayne County Tax Auction sales.

Our intent is to demonstrate that decline is an active practice, that there are actual people, companies, and organizations that produce it and by making those things visible we are adding our work to that of many others in the city to widen avenues for organizing to change it.

Background:

The continuing decline of Detroit is driven by exploitation and profiteering in many of the city’s poorest neighborhoods. Real estate speculation is one of the primary methods and one of the most destructive. It extracts the limited financial resources of residents and tears apart the fabric of neighborhoods. The neglect of these houses and commercial structures by bulk owners result in blight and vacancy. The cost of these practices fall on residents who have the misfortune to sign a contract with these speculators, neighbors who watch houses crumble or sit vacant, and the general public who is left with the cost of demolishing these structures once these speculators walk away.

These speculative practices are directly tied to the rising rates of eviction in the City of Detroit. Low income housing markets were changed by the financial crisis. A variety property schemes relying on land purchase agreements, such as land contracts, have become commonplace. Eviction is a key component of these strategies. It is not merely the result of the precarity of poverty. It is a feature in this system of exploitation.

Where did this come from:

This market did not emerge on its own. It was made possible by a mortgage collapse that changed ownership patterns, a housing crisis in cities like Detroit where affordable quality housing is in limited supply, and the actions and inaction of government at all levels to intervene in protecting their most vulnerable residents while enabling those with means to exploit them.

What are some of the factors that led to this:

These practices are enabled by the Wayne County Treasurer and the annual tax auction. Wayne County has avoided bankruptcy by collecting millions in revenues and fees from low income residents behind on property taxes. The volume of tax foreclosures was higher because the City of Detroit over-assessed homeowners. The City of Detroit made it incredibly difficult for low income residents to receive the property tax poverty exemption they qualified for. These practices emerged from the financial crisis when government sponsored agencies such as Fannie Mae chose to sell bank foreclosures in bulk in Detroit and other struggling Great Lakes cities to speculators. Hundreds of millions in public money has been doled out to private contractors for demolition. Much of that money was intended to keep people in their homes during the mortgage crisis. The State of Michigan adopted policies that made it difficult for anyone to qualify for these funds. The City of Detroit and Quicken Loans lobbied the Obama Administration to use this money for demolition.

This project is an attempt to make the work of academic researchers and housing activists and advocates accessible to a wider audience.

The Urban Praxis Workshop is a community-driven research cooperative housed at the University of Michigan-Dearborn.  For more information on our work you can find us at urbanpraxis.org or contact us at urbanpraxis@umich.edu

Published by Josh Akers

I research and write about urban and economic geography. I teach at the University of Michigan-Dearborn.

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