Photo: Sammie Lewis of Detroit Will Breathe leads demonstrators through downtown Detroit. Liberation photo: Brandon Stout
Activists angered by the Detroit Police Department’s role in carrying out evictions marched through downtown Detroit April 10 to support housing rights and demand cops end their practice of helping landlords illegally evict tenants. Several tenants who had experienced illegal evictions spoke at a rally in front of DPD headquarters before the march.
“Cops showed up at my home with my landlord, they knocked on the door and they said ‘Your landlord says you’re a squatter, give us the keys and get out,’” Detroit resident Rosey White told the crowd. “I didn’t have anything but the clothes on my back.
“It is traumatic. It has caused a lot of pain in my life. Not only did I lose everything I own, I ended up homeless. I had problems finding work. How do you go to work and you don’t have shoes?” White said. “I get tired of telling this story but the reason I keep telling it is because nothing has been done.”
Detroit has seen an especially brutal attack on housing rights since the 2008 recession. First, home values were wiped out due to mass foreclosures caused by predatory lending by the banks.
That was followed by the city of Detroit greatly over-assessing the value of homes, forcing mostly Black residents to pay more in property taxes or risk losing their homes to tax foreclosure. According to an investigation by the Detroit News, home values were over-assessed by at least $600 million and the over-assessed homeowners were forced to pay an average of $3,800 in excess taxes.
Stop over-assessment and over-taxation!
According to a 2020 study from the University of Chicago, the city of Detroit is continuing to over-assess homes.
“In 2015, I lost my home to tax foreclosure from over-taxation by the city of Detroit,” Geraldine McKissick said at the rally. “The city of Detroit sold my home for $1,211 even though I went [to them] asking for help.”
McKissick’s home was bought by the non-profit Storehouse of Hope, which started renting the property to McKissick as part of a land trust program. However, McKissick says Storehouse for Hope’s director Rev. Joan C. Ross has not paid property taxes or completed necessary repairs.
“Rev. Ross wants me to pay her $14,747 for my home. I’ve already paid Rev. Ross well over $5,000 in rent. But guess what? Rev. Ross wasn’t even supposed to be collecting rent from me because my house was never registered with the city of Detroit as a rental property,” McKissick said.
Additionally, Rev. Ross called off a planned mediation session the day before it was supposed to happen and sent a cease-and-desist letter to Detroit Eviction Defense, a local activist group helping McKissick.
McKissick also called out the city government. “I need y’all [politicians] to come up out of the offices and get into the neighborhoods. Stop allowing non-profit organizations to operate in the city of Detroit and continue to displace us.”
‘We’re determined to keep fighting’
Detroit Will Breathe leader Sammie Lewis, who helped organize the march, said local politicians support investors. “All they care about is keeping money coming into the city. Keeping Black people in their homes is not doing that.
“There is a lot of homelessness, there are a lot of people struggling because of the pandemic, there are people struggling everywhere except for the gentrified areas.”
Lewis said that Detroit Will Breathe and Detroit Eviction Defense called the event because “they’ve illegally evicted a lot of Black women specifically and they have no accountability for it. We believe that if DPD cannot tell the difference between a legal and illegal eviction they should not be going through with any of them.
“We are very determined to keep fighting and make sure that people stay in their homes.”
The event was co-sponsored by 12 additional organizations, including the Party for Socialism and Liberation. A full video of the rally can be found on Detroit Will Breathe’s Facebook page here.