Taking advantage of Detroit

By Michele Oberholtzer

November 6, 2015

Excerpt: “A lot of black Detroiters endured the harsh years following the wave of depopulation, disfunction, and disemployment because this was one of the few places they could afford to own property and establish self-governance. That is changing now in a process that goes beyond displacement to replacement. Crain’s Detroit reports that white population is rising while the black population and the city overall is still shrinking. Just as property taxes make it so a person never really owns a home, economic inequality makes it so that Detroiters never really own Detroit– it can always be taken away if you don’t pay. The result is that many black Detroiters have effectively been babysitting property for suburbanites, who are now returning like absentee fathers to reclaim what they left behind after a 50-year hiatus.

The battle over property in a city as vast as Detroit is a strange contradiction: It seems there should be room enough for everyone. Stranger still is the fact that the forces that disadvantage Detroiters are not perpetuated by the familiar trope of the “big bad bank” but by the local government, which should presumably work for the benefit of its citizens.

Trying to make sense of government policies that actually harm its residents raises the question: What is a city? If a city is a geographic location, Detroit will always be the same, but if a city is an aggregation of its people, these active forces of displacement have the power to alter it forever.”