Abayomi Azikiwe, Pan-African News Wire editor, covers a home defense on the city's west side. A campaign is unfolding to win a moratorium on all foreclosures and evictions in Michigan. (Photo: Alan Pollock)., a photo by Pan-African News Wire File Photos on Flickr.
Housing Struggles Escalating in Detroit
Absent from presidential campaigns the problems of foreclosure and evictions continue
By Abayomi Azikiwe
Editor, Pan-African News Wire
In listening to the presidential debates and speeches of the two ruling class parties any uninformed person would think that the problems of foreclosures and evictions are no longer in existence or have drastically declined. The primary focus of the presidential race was the personalities of the Democratic and Republican contenders and not the issues that are of most concern to the majority of people in the United States.
In Detroit there have been tens of thousands of foreclosures over the last five years. The impact of these bank seizures of homes have driven communities into ruin, drained tax revenues and forced 237,000 people, 25 percent of the population, out of the city during the last census period.
Although there have been a myriad of government programs and other purportedly anti-foreclosure non-profit agencies established, none of these operations have helped people who have come to the Moratorium NOW! Coalition to Stop Foreclosures, Evictions and Utility Shut-offs, which was formed in 2008. Moratorium NOW! grew out of the Michigan Emergency Committee Against War & Injustice (MECAWI), anti-war and social justice organization formed in 2002 leading up to the U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq.
One of main slogans of MECAWI is “Money for Jobs, Homes, Schools and Healthcare, Not War! The growing defense budget and the bailout of the banks and corporations diverted trillions of dollars away from human needs towards the profit-making imperatives of the Pentagon and the financial institutions.
The Moratorium NOW! Coalition calls for a federal executive order to halt home seizures and evictions by the banks and government entities such as Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, who now control most of the mortgages inside the U.S. This demand has been fought vigorously by the ruling class and its political surrogates who view the banks as sacrosanct.
Moratorium NOW! and MECAWI played an instrumental role in jump-starting Occupy Detroit in October 2011. The support of labor and community organizations gave the city’s occupation of Grand Circus Park downtown a more working class character that distinguished this demonstration from many others around the country.
Two of the early working groups within Occupy Detroit focused on building labor support and the need for a moratorium on foreclosures. Two demonstrations against Bank of America on October 18 and 21 resulted in the saving of a military veteran’s home in the Detroit area.
The demonstration by Occupy Detroit on October 21, 2011 was cited by the Metro Times as the first of such actions around the country that put forward demands to the banking sector. Other actions during this period saved the home of Kyra Williams on the east side and 1515 Broadway, a coffee shop and theater downtown where Occupy Detroit held some of its early meeting and events.
The Struggle Continues
In recent months several cases have been taken up by Moratorium NOW! and Occupy Detroit Eviction Defense Committee. Names such as Jerome Jackson, Jennifer Britt, Angela Crockett, Jerry and Gail Cullors and Paramount homeowners have become the focus of discussions at community meetings, public hearings, demonstrations and court proceedings.
Jerome Jackson is a paraplegic man who has been in a wheelchair since he was 14. He was placed in a mortgage in Inkster, a suburb of Detroit, and was promised assistance from Community Living Services, an entity that is supposed to assist people living with disabilities.
Jackson is now facing foreclosure by PNC Bank and Fannie Mae. The case is currently in federal court as Jackson through his lawyer Bob Day, are seeking to halt his looming eviction.
At a Wayne County Board of Commissioners hearing on November 1 in downtown Detroit, Jackson’s sister, Jettowynne Jones, reminded the elected officials that “We came before you earlier this year, on June 7, and the Commission passed a resolution that urged a stay in the evictions pending a review by the County and that urged Fannie Mae and PNC Bank to work with my brother Jerome to obtain a mortgage that reflects his income.”
Jones continued by saying “I do not believe that any meaningful review has taken place and certainly, no mortgage has been offered that my brother can afford. At this point, the threat of eviction weighs on my brother every single day. According to his doctors, the stress has severely weakened his immune system.”
She revealed to the Commission that “He (Jackson) has been in the hospital several times in the past few months because his blood pressure has been so high that he runs the risk of a stroke. “CLS,” which is under contract with Wayne County, “has also retaliated by reducing services that it has provided in the past.”
A subcommittee of forces involved in Detroit Eviction Defense and Moratorium NOW! are working to apply greater pressure on CLS, PNC Bank and Fannie Mae. A demonstration is being planned by students in Ann Arbor at PNC Bank headquarters in that university town.
Angela Crockett is also facing foreclosure through CitiMortgage. She had set up an agreement through an Unemployment Forbearance Program with CitiMortgage but the bank sold the house anyway at a sheriff’s sale on July 20.
Crockett notes that “CitiMortgage took my friends, neighbors, and my tax dollars to foreclose on my home and are using our tax dollars to put my child and myself on the street. It they did it to me, they will do it to you too.”
Representing herself in 36th District Court, Crockett was granted a motion to set aside a bogus consent order that deprived her of the legal right to defend her home. She is scheduled for another hearing on November 9 in front of Judge Pat Jefferson.
A leaflet issued by the Moratorium NOW! Coalition demanded “that the eviction be stopped and that an equitable and affordable solution be offered to Angela Crockett that reflects the current market value of the home and a low interest rate loan.”
Another case attracting considerable attention is the Paramount Land Holdings of South Carolina swindle. This group of “investors” borrowed $10 million from the Detroit Police and Fire Pension Board in 2009 in order to purchase several thousand foreclosed homes at almost no cost.
These homes were re-sold to people on land contracts although the properties had tax liens and the deeds were never registered with Wayne County. Today, people are facing tax foreclosures with no legal claim to ownership due to the deliberate fraud perpetrated by Paramount, which is now bankrupt with one owner in prison and another having taken his own life.
In a statement made by the Detroit Eviction Defense, it points out that “Paramount homeowners have been organizing and opposing the tax foreclosures and evictions. The Wayne County Treasurer agreed to a temporary stay on foreclosure proceedings, but the Pension Board insists that homeowners should continue to pay under the illegal land contracts and are threatening to evict those who refuse.”
Perhaps the most dramatic action around anti-foreclosure work took place on October 30 at the home of Jerry and Gail Cullors. Jerry is a truck driver and member of Teamsters Local 51 and was recently hit by a hefty salary cut and consequently fell behind on mortgage payments at their Rosedale Park home.
After being notified by anti-foreclosure activists in the Rosedale Park area, Detroit Eviction Defense and other organizations mobilized to prevent the Cullors from being tossed out of their home, where their son and his 88-year-old grandmother resides. Efforts were made to set up a human chain to block the court officers from breaking into the home and placing the contents in a dumpster outside.
A motion for a stay was filed but later cops came on to the scene with a paddy wagon prepared to make mass arrests. Nevertheless, the stay was granted and a police lieutenant arrived to reign in the cops.
The Housing Question
Frederick Engels wrote in 1872 that “It is perfectly clear that the existing state is neither able nor willing to do anything to remedy the housing difficulty. The state is nothing but the organized collective power of the possessing classes, the landowners, and the capitalists as against the exploited classes, the peasants and the workers.” (The Housing Question)
This passage still rings true today with all of the Obama administration programs to ostensibly assist homeowners, only those around the country who are actively fighting foreclosures and evictions in the streets are making any progress. The housing industry is controlled by the banks and it is in the interest of finance capital that the state approaches these issues.
In New York, New Jersey and all along the east coast where Sandy had its most devastating impact, the housing question is coming to the fore in a different social dimension. The incapacity of the capitalist state to address the emergency needs of the people has been illustrated clearly since the storm struck October 29-30.
These developments whether in the area of economic crisis or natural disasters, require the organization of the workers, youth and farmers. In a genuine democracy the people would decide upon the societal priorities related to housing, jobs, food, utilities, healthcare, public transportation and all other necessities of modern life.