Wire Nuts

Sometimes, I think my dad is an accidental feminist. What choice is there when you have five daughters? With that gender distribution, it’s inevitable that you will witness your female progeny carry out multiple acts of intelligence and feats of competency. Practicality alone will lead you to avoid “traditional” paths wherein each daughter must find a man to provide for her before she can leave your care.

Maybe that’s why we were building rockets to launch in the park at age 6, and driving the riding lawnmower around the yard at age 10, and filling out the bubbles of standardized tests in the middle of summer in order to go to “nerd camp” at age 12. Dad, like any good parent, felt good when his kids did well, and he and mom gave us lots of settings to achieve in.

Often times, though, this meant that spending time with dad felt a lot like completing a chore. Sure, it was nice to finally solve the physics problem, and I was so lucky I had someone to ask for help, but that doesn’t mean it was fun. My butt left the chair as soon as I made my last pencil stroke. Thanks and byeeeeeee! Continue reading

Check-Save-Buy

Previously published in the Free Press with minor unapproved edits. Original below:

It started with a Facebook post “77-year old women needs help immediately!” The woman was a renter of a tax foreclosed home, and a stream of well-meaning friends offered their advice about what she should do. There was fear that she would face eviction, rumors about who owned it, and a lot of other well-intentioned misinformation. I was sad that, even after a decade where one in four properties in Detroit have gone through tax foreclosure, there is still a serious lack of information about what to do when your landlord doesn’t pay the taxes and the government becomes the owner of your home.

If you happen to live in any of the 15,000 occupied homes across Detroit that face tax foreclosure by the Wayne County Treasurer this year, you might have some questions about where your property stands and what to do next. I finally joined the conversation to try to clarify some of the confusion, and I will try to do so here in my capacity as a housing counselor.
So, if you’re a renter in a home that was foreclosed by the Wayne County Treasurer, here are your stop-drop-and-roll techniques for what to do when the government becomes the owner of your home: CHECK, SAVE, & BUY. Continue reading

Beneath The Steam

Originally published in Hour Detroit

An iconic image of winter in Detroit is the columns of smoke spewing from sidewalks. Steaming streets are part of the landscape, but few know the answers that lie beneath this mystery in plain sight.

Below our sidewalks, there’s a vast infrastructure that includes electricity, water, sewer, and fiber optics. In a portion of the city, there’s also a network for what’s known as superheated “district steam.”

Most buildings and homes have their own furnace or boiler, but properties on the district steam system connect to a grid that delivers steam directly to their pipes. It’s not so different from the way that most buildings receive electricity from a utility grid rather than having their own internal generator.

District steam is common in dense urban areas with large buildings because a central plant can be more efficient than individual boilers. The current system serves more than 100 buildings in greater downtown, including the GM Renaissance Center, Cobo Hall, the Fox Theater, and Ford Field.

But this type of system is limited for a reason: Heat escapes rapidly as the steam pipes pass by cold external air, so it is not suited for long distances.

Detroit’s system is notable because it is so extensive — with over 50 miles of steam mains — and because it is so old. The system dates to 1903, when it was opened by Detroit Edison Electric Company. It’s also very leaky, as evidenced by all the steam seen rising from city sidewalks and streets.

The leaks are more than a systemic inefficiency. They also bring their own quirky hazards. The thick columns of steam can create blind spots that are dangerous to both drivers and pedestrians. And apparently, enough passers-by have burned themselves on scalding steam, that one local law firm has a dedicated website for personal injury suits from “Detroit manhole cover steam burns.”

Minor perils aside, the steam itself is not all that scary. It is just hot water — not swampy sewer gas or exhaust from the forgotten Detroit salt mines.

One Man’s Trash … Continue reading

Government Can Stop Government Foreclosure

Originally published in the Detroit Free Press

If you’re anything like me, you feel a little sick when you hear that yet another 36,000 Detroit properties are facing tax foreclosure this year. Tax foreclosure is an autoimmune disorder through which our own local government has become the agent of its own destruction. The city, the county and the state all have a role in carrying out tax foreclosure, but they also have the ability to end it.

Prevent the Loss

The first priority must be to preserve homeownership. The most obvious solution for retaining homeowners is to use the federal funds already allocated for foreclosure prevention to actually prevent foreclosure, at no cost to local government.

Each year, the Michigan State Develop Housing Authority, (MSHDA) “Step Forward” program denies assistance to hundreds of applicants who ultimately lose their homes to tax foreclosure. Meanwhile, the funds go unused. MSDHA requirements are too judgmental, stringent and unreasonable for worthy homeowners to qualify, and the application period is too short. Local government should and could aggressively lobby MSDHA to better utilize its foreclosure prevention money for Detroit homeowners, and to increase this funding by returning demolition funds for their original purpose.

Another solution involves the expansion of the so-called “poverty exemption,” which waives taxes for Michigan homeowners with low incomes. This exemption could be extended on a retroactive basis (as with income taxes and the “principal residence exemption”).  A retroactive poverty exemption could annul the foreclosures for hundreds or thousands of at-risk Detroit homeowners who are losing their houses for taxes that they could have had waived.

At-risk homeowners need better payment plans. State law limits Wayne County’s options for reducing interest and debt, and over-assessed delinquent tax bills increase at 18% interest each year. One option is the so-called “SEVSPA” plan, a plan that cut tax debt to half the State Equalized Value. This existed under 2015 law passed with the support of Mayor Duggan, but it was only available temporarily at a time when property assessments across Detroit were still chronically over-inflated. We need more common-sense payment plans that reduce debt to some value proportionate to the home’s property value or the owner’s ability to pay. Continue reading

Deity Viety- Revelation

I’m quite sure that I had never truly prayed before. I know some who did, and swore by it. But most people I know did not pray, and I saw no need for it, no calling to it. It was not until I watched with my own eyes as the tree line instantaneously receded from the nearby mountainside like a children’s flip book of the falling of winter changing the leaves from green to auburn to a brittle desiccated brown, reducing the work of a month into a few moment’s time that my mortality shivered in my heart and my mouth dropped open.

“My god” I said.

That was my first prayer.

Continue reading

Deity Viety- Creation

In the time before life, Earth was but a swirling mass of gasses: no land, no sea, no sky. A day was nothing but a shy twirl of the earth before the gaze of the sun, whose only impact was to stir the winds with waves of temperature that whipped the elements about. As they heated, cooled, mixed, and clashed, the stirring gasses combined into configurations of molecules, gaining weight, gaining complexity, gaining volume, gaining density. With time, the gasses transformed to liquid and created a great ocean. And with more time, there were humble solid specs floating in that ocean.

The solids were contained environments that allowed certain elements to remain locked together. Sometimes two solids would collide, which sometimes resulted in larger configurations and new types of combinations, and other times caused a solid to fracture and split its big pieces into small.

__

On one nameless morning amidst the coastless sea, the dawn light pierced a wave like a prism and cast down a laserlight concentration of energy onto a single solid speck in such a way that it provoked a great reaction. The speck, thus infused, could not contain its new energy and it cleaved apart. But this reaction was of a different kind than those collisions that splintered solids apart. Rather than causing the large solid to split into smaller solids, this reaction caused the physical to separate from the aphysical. The matter parted from the antimatter and the result was one large solid with a complementary, corresponding otherness. Thus, the speck was infused with Life-state, and an equal-and-opposite God-state manifested alongside. In this instant, the duel phenomena of Life and God came about.  Continue reading

Deity Viety- Introduction

Here is a truth: you do not know what God is. You use this word, and it’s a useful word, and you are free to use it, and you will be almost right when you do. But you do not truly know what it refers to. That which you conjure when you point your word at it is at the same time smaller than what you think it is and also greater. It is smaller because it is not immortal, nor inevitable, nor universal. It is fragile and finite and formless. It is greater because it is dynamic, evolving, and intimate. It does not know you but it is of you.

I am. Life is. God is. I am alive. Lives are God.

Allow me to explain. Continue reading

Hamtramck Love Letter

Reflections on my journey to stay in one place

I never imagined I would be washing his dishes: the remains of some crusty casserole, six or eight months old; a mystery Tupperware; a rimmed teacup. I’m sure that if he had could have known that I, a woman he met only once, would be cleaning up after him, he may have taken care of the mess himself. Or maybe not. Maybe a century-old man only needs one plate and one cup, and maybe he relishes in leaving the rest of them dirty. Maybe he feels he’s cleaned enough dishes in his life and gets a kick out of the idea of some family member, some hired worker, some stranger doing it for him. I don’t really know what he thought or what kind of man he was because our time only barely intersected. Ben Jaros lived in one home each of his 98 years and I have now passed one of mine in that same house. His house. My house. Home.

I moved here scared and reluctant after finding out that my apartment was turning into a condo and that my work-for-rent gig was over. I had bought a $500 home in the tax auction but it had no windows, electricity, plumbing, or heat and it was still winter. I had not signed a lease since my divorce and, after moving twelve times in three and a half years, I seemed to know less about where I belonged than where I didn’t.

These frequent moves gave me a strong sense of respect for the idea of “home” so I think that’s why I was so stunned when I met Mr. Ben Jaros in front of his Hamtramck house that he proudly told me had never moved from. I asked if I could take his picture and he agreed. Immediately, I knew this picture would be the olive branch in our friendship. I would print the image of the old man with his house and he would fill in the stories of his time these. I wanted to know what he had lived through and, even more than that, I wanted my restless soul to learn what it was like to be satisfied with that you already had.

My intentions were good but I didn’t exactly prioritize this little project. Nine months passed until I finally printed the photo, found a frame for it, isolated a time in my schedule and summoned up the nerve to drop by. Nobody home. On my next visit, I saw a neighbor walking his big goldendoodle down the sidewalk and learned that the old man had done what took most people less time to do: he died.

I went home feeling disappointed and inexplicably sad about my failure to anticipate this inevitable event. It seemed to matter that I’d never have the chance to hear those stories. Continue reading

Myth-busting the Detroit tax foreclosure crisis 

Detroit is Not for Sale

Originally published by Metro Times

At the time of this writing, Detroit is in the midst of yet another round of the staged cage-fight that is the tax foreclosure auction. In many ways this feels like an individual fight — one home at a time fighting to mitigate the harshest consequences such as eviction, homelessness, and permanent property damage. Yet this issue affects the city as a whole, and it’s important that we do not become desensitized to the routine social violence that it represents. The truth is that Detroit is for sale by our own local government, and it is time to challenge the convenient notions that help us fall asleep at night.

In its barest terms, here is how the tax foreclosure process functions in Detroit:

When you own a home, you have to pay taxes. Every year, the city of Detroit assesses the property value and issues two tax bills accordingly. Property taxes help pay for infrastructure, libraries, the zoo, schools, garbage pickup, and so on. If the city taxes are not paid, the debt gets passed on to the Wayne County Treasurer, which acts as a collections agency, tacking on 18 percent interest per each year if the taxes go unpaid. After three years, state law requires that the Wayne County Treasurer foreclose on the property and put it up for sale in an auction, where it is sold to the highest bidder.

Under this system, one out of every three Detroit properties has been put up for auction by the Wayne County Treasurer since 2002.

Understandably, the consequences of such massive forced turnover in property ownership are severe. The system provides a harsh penalty for violating the social contract: pay your taxes or lose your house. However, it fails to address the underlying reasons for tax delinquency or adequately recoup lost revenue, and leads to deep and enduring consequences that devastate the city as a whole.

Myth 1: The system is fair Continue reading

Paved Paradise

Outside my office window-
a flat patch of land
where a home once stood
no shadow, fresh dirt,
I cant remember it, exactly.

Outside my office window-
two police cars
lights flashing, sirens off
black tarp, solid form
still body-shaped, but still.

Outside my office window-
a big semi truck
from the deconstruction site
that rolled over that woman-
eighteen wheels-to-two
with blind spots
now she’s gone,-
but not buried yet.

I can still see her form there
right where I biked to work last Friday
singing loud enough to hear-
if you rolled your windows down-
riding fast enough to see-
if you checked your mirrors-
but soft enough to fall-
if you won’t, or don’t-
and small enough to be forgotten,
once they lay that pavement down.