by Fred Vitale
After the state began cutting homeless mothers off of cash assistance [see “And the Beat Goes On…” by Maureen Taylor] providing nothing but food stamps and a phone number, the Housing is a Human Right Coalition immediately began investigating what could be done to obtain housing for homeless members. Over the winter and spring, poverty fighters met and developed a program to help homeless mothers move into abandoned housing.
The Coalition’s plans and efforts have led to several dozens of families placed in and living in abandoned housing around Detroit. Response to the program has been overwhelming. Hundreds of homeless mothers have signed up for extensive orientations and training on how to find shelter for their families. Some young mothers were already living in abandoned housing, and came to the Coalition for support in their efforts to make themselves and their children as protected as possible from further legal actions.
In many areas young mothers and children were greeted with open arms by neighbors who were happy to have homes occupied by responsible adults. At other times, the women were met with hostility. In other situations, city council members have chosen to side with the banks and driven homeless mothers from their housing.
Since the Coalition began its efforts this year to find homes for homeless mothers and their children, it has come under attack, receiving threatening communications from representatives of financial institutions and governmental agencies associated with housing.
Homeless mothers testified before Detroit City Council earlier this year. They spoke about the properties in which they lived, the repairs and upgrades they have made to make the places habitable, and their future plans for staying. They were received warmly by some on City Council, and eventually even by Mayor Bing. A resolution supporting these efforts was passed by City Council and signed by the mayor.
This September over 21,000 properties seized by Wayne County for failure to pay taxes were auctioned. It is not clear how many sold, and if any properties still held by the city and county will be provided to the Coalition. Another auction of these properties is scheduled for October.
There are two city ordinances that may help these mothers repair and stay in abandoned homes. A Nuisance Abatement ordinance provides a means for Detroiters to eventually own a house abandoned by banks. A later Repair to Own ordinance provides a similar route to own a house now owned by Detroit. Both ordinances require detailed procedures and mechanisms to be established by City of Detroit departments to ensure that these houses are safe, that all other city ordinances are followed and so on. These procedures and mechanisms are poorly defined and barely exist.
But even if there were robust procedures and mechanisms, in over 20 years and hundreds of cases of nuisance abatement, property has actually changed hands from the original property owner to the resident in only a few cases. It is very difficult to take property legally. Property rights are valued more highly than human rights.
Poor people are blamed for being poor and are seen as bringing with them crime and trouble. The connection between poverty and crime is not a connection between poor people and criminals. Making that leap is a leap across the class line to the side of the bankers and most peoples’ enemies. We need to create within our communities love and support for homeless mothers and their children as they try to make their way in a heartless world.
To volunteer call the Housing is a Human Right Coalition at 313-964-0618.