Detroit Land Bank seizes homes

En route to the financial district, Detroit Freedom Friday protesters walk past 65 Cadillac Square, where hidden away on the 28th and 32nd floors is the Detroit Land Bank Authority, a quasi-governmental agency formed in 2008. For the last several years the DLBA has ostensibly concerned itself with the acquisition of tax-foreclosed properties numbering in the tens of thousands.

Despite the existence of hundreds of millions of dollars in federal monies to address the impact of the recession beginning in 2007, these funds have never been fully utilized to tackle Detroit’s home foreclosure crisis. For many years the Moratorium NOW! Coalition has consistently demanded that these funds be released to keep people in their homes. Funds in the Helping Hardest Hit Homeowners program, for example, have sat unused by homeowners who need that money.

Other programs utilizing federal funding are supposed to provide relief to the tens of thousands of households in Michigan that face foreclosure each year because they cannot pay the municipal and county property taxes. The bureaucratic and pro-banker approach by the state government in Lansing has resulted in the failure of these funds to be spent on those who need them.

As a result, approximately 84,000 structures and lots within the city are considered blighted or abandoned. A Detroit Blight Removal Authority was established last year to address the removal of these properties, which include abandoned factories, warehouses, businesses, apartment buildings and homes. This authority was headed by Bill Pulte, the 26-year-old grandson of the owner of the largest home builder in the U.S., headquartered in Bloomfield Hills, Mich., one of the wealthiest suburbs in the country.

Since January, Mayor Mike Duggan’s office has taken over this project by setting up yet another outfit, the Detroit Blight Removal Task Force, which is directed by Dan Gilbert, the founder, owner and chair of Quicken Loans, one of the largest landlords in the city that owns some 50 buildings in downtown.

This Blight Removal Task Force hired a private mapping firm to identify properties to be seized and possibly razed. Any home considered vacant or blighted has been plastered with signs threatening the owners that seizure activity will commence through lawsuits challenging the title ownership of the buildings if they do not contact the DLBA within three days.

These actions are being carried out in total disregard of existing city ordinances that regulate code violations and blight removal. However, since the state-appointed Emergency Manager’s authority supersedes that of the City Council and the mayor, the state-imposed entities are determining how communities will be restructured.

DLBA: Detroit’s largest landlord

In a City Council hearing in mid-June it was revealed that the DLBA was in control of 17,000 properties in Detroit, making it the largest landlord in the city. This agency, operating outside the public view and directed through the DBRTF by billionaire Gilbert, will in no way genuinely benefit the people of Detroit.

A May 28 New York Times article stated: “The blight study, which is perhaps the most elaborate survey of decay conducted in any large [U.S.] city, found that 30 percent of buildings, or 78,506 of them, scattered across the city’s 139 square miles, are dilapidated or heading that way. It found that 114,000 parcels — about 30 percent of the city’s total — are vacant. And it found that more than 90 percent of publicly held parcels are blighted.”

In the DBRTF report there is no mention of the role of the banks or the federal and state governments in the destruction of the housing industry and whole communities in Detroit. Gilbert is part of the problem in Detroit, and cannot lead an effective campaign aimed at genuine reconstruction.

Also revealing about the DBRTF is that President Barack Obama is credited with spearheading the effort. The White House summoned business leaders to Detroit last September to discuss ways in which the federal government could assist in restructuring the city, which has the largest African-American population per capita in the U.S.

However, more than $400 million in federal monies earmarked for the state’s “hardest hit” fund will not be utilized to keep people in their homes or foster refurbishing of these properties to the benefit of the people who live there. Instead, this vast sum will be used to target communities for further seizure and dislocation.

The fact that leading interests in corporate Detroit are heading such efforts speaks volumes about the overall agenda of the “blight removal” project. Gilbert has bought up — essentially been given — buildings in the downtown area, forcing the relocation of city departments in a program that will change the composition of the central district. Rents have increased, and private security firms patrol the area to monitor demonstrations and other activities against the corporate interests and their agents in government.

Militant action required
to reverse attacks

These issues must be addressed in the broader fightback taking place in Detroit against the emergency management and the forced bankruptcy. No decision has been made by the federal bankruptcy court on the so-called “Plan of Adjustment” put forward by the banks through Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr and Gov. Rick Snyder. Nonetheless, the thrust ­toward privatization is moving at a rapid pace.

Almost every day Orr and Snyder are telling retirees, workers and other “creditors” in the bankruptcy that they should vote “yes” on the austerity Plan of Adjustment. However, the Stop the Theft of Our Pensions Committee, the Moratorium NOW! Coalition and other community-based groups are calling for a “no” vote.

These organizations are demonstrating and marching through downtown, saying “Make the banks pay!” It is the financial institutions, the auto companies and real estate magnates that have looted the resources of Detroit and other cities throughout the U.S.

Only the massive mobilization and organization of the nationally oppressed and workers in Detroit, who constitute the overwhelming majority in the city, can halt the current attacks and put forward a genuine “People’s Plan of Adjustment” that would mandate the restoration of communities, creation of jobs and maintenance of public assets, including schools. Such a people’s plan would hold those who have caused the destruction of Detroit and other cities responsible and make them accountable for their crimes against the people.