Flower, Honor, Tenor

Video

My baby gardens at night,
She gets that midnight dirt inside of her fingernails.
I wonder what it feels like
To hear the secrets of the earth that she never tells.
And so what- maybe she’s crazy,
to spend her time creating beauty she’ll never see.
But when the moon hits the sky
I wanna find her, wanna flower, wanna garden at night.

My baby prays to the light,
She gets those noonday rays on back of her eyeball lids.
I wonder what it feels like
To see the majesty of god in the roy-g-biv.
And so what- maybe she’s crazy,
to give her sight to a divine that will make her blind.
But with the sun in my eye,
I wanna find her, wanna honor, wanna pray to the light.

My baby sings through the fright,
she’s got the note antidote for those salty tears.
I wonder what it feels like,
to know the lullaby that tucks in your deepest fears.
And so what- maybe she’s crazy,
to chose the serenade instead of the fight or flight
But when the terror runs high
I wanna find her, wanna tenor, wanna sing through the fright.

Mama Song

Video

My mama knows when I am aching,
she can feel it in her soul.
My mama knows the smile I faking,
when I’ve got nowhere to go.

And in my older years, it’s hard to keep my pride up on the shelf.
But mama gives it when I ask her for some help.

(She tells me)
Show me where it hurts,
so I know exactly where to send my love.
Show me where it hurts,
so I know exactly where to send my love.

I wanna feel the peace awaken-
shadows fading from our eyes.
I wanna stop the earth from shaking-
separate the truth from lies.
But, with these recent fears, it’s hard enough to trust in my own self.
And so I seek her when I’ve got nobody else.

(She tells me)
Show me where it hurts,
so I know exactly where to send my love.
Show me where it hurts,
so I know exactly where to send my love.

Mama Mama Calling.
Mama Mama Crying .
Mama Mama Calling.
Bring Your Love To Me.

(And she’ll say)
Show me where it hurts,
so I know exactly where to send my love.
Show me where it hurts,
so I know exactly where to send my love.

All the Love is

Video

All the love is stronger, now-
I call you sisters and brothers.
And, I’m not saying that it’s easy, somehow,
but I don’t believe there are others.

All the dark is softer, now-
I glide right over the ridges.
And I’m not saying that it’s easy, somehow,
but at least I’m not digging ditches.

All the love is stronger now
All the love is stronger now,
All the dark is softer now,
All the dark is.

All the love is stronger, now-
I feel the beauty awaken
And, I’m not saying that it’s easy, somehow,
but it’s giving more than its taking.

All the dark is softer, now-
I stand up tall to bear witness
And I’m not saying that it’s easy, somehow,
but at least my skin’s got some thickness.

All the love is stronger now
All the love is stronger now,
All the dark is softer now,
All the dark is.

All the love is stronger, now-
I feel it rising within me.
One day it will be easy, somehow,
If we just keep on believing…

All the love is stronger now
All the love is stronger now,
All the dark is softer now,
All the dark is.

Meantime

Video

It’s funny how the what we do becomes the who we are-
a lifetime of tomorrows passes by.
And, flipping through my journal is like picking at a scar-
the pages thick with ink that just won’t dry.

Oh, I have tried a hundred ways to end this bitter journey.
And time can hide, but not erase, the truth that I’m still learning…

That wanting to change is not the same as being able to
And knowing what’s wrong is not enough to know what I should do.
Oh, but all that I can do is try, to take it each day at a time
and let it be enough
in the meantime.

I drew a line into the sand, but it all blew away.
Each promise to myself was just a lie.
And through those many years I never bothered once to pray
To buried in my fears to even try.

The free will I’ve been running with is feeling kinda costly.
In private moments, I’ll admit, the path has kinda lost me…
Cuz wanting to change is not the same as being able to
And knowing what’s wrong is not enough to know what I should do.
Oh, but all that I can do is try, to take it each day at a time
and let it be enough
in the meantime.

Believe me I quit my job, I quit my life.
I quit my love- I’m nobody’s wife.
I cleansed my soul in the Jordan River Valley.
I climbed the highest mountain, and then I flew a kite.
But I’m still on, the same damn page of life.

Cuz wanting to change is not the same as being able to
And knowing myself is not enough to know what I should do.
Oh, but all that I can do is try, to take it each day at a time
and let it be enough
in the meantime.

Honest John’s

Video

Well, we met down there at PJ’s on a lonely Sunday night
and right away, my dear, it seemed to come quite natural.
Then I braided you a bracelet, but I tied it on too tight,
that’s when I knew that you and me was something actual.

Then, there was that time at Cece’s by the lazy firelight,
and don’t you know, I did my best to keep it casual.
But in your gaze I started burning like my clothes were on too tight,
Oh, you could melt my heart, my dear, that’s matter factual.

And sure we said “just friends’ but I was tremblin’
when you looked me in the eye.
That’s when I said I had to go- it was an honest sort of lie.

So when you, kissed me, on the cheek at Honest Johns,
Oh, I could hardly speak, my knees were getting weak
When you, kissed me, honestly I saw the stars
So tell the truth, now, does this mean, that I’m yours?

Oh what about the Old Miami? Boy, I had you in my sights.
And, at least to me, it seemed to be quite magical.
But you were missing in action like you fell without a fight.
You were too two-hearted dear, to be romantical.

And sure, you kissed me then, but I’ve been suffering
when for months you acted shy.
If you’d’ve asked, I’d tell you so, across my heart and hope to die.

But if you, kiss me, on the cheek at Honest John’s
Oh, I won’t hardly speak, my knees will get so weak.
If you, kiss me, honestly I’ll see the stars,
and I’ll make damn sure it means, that I’m yours.

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

A Torturous Trap: Water Shutoffs and Tax Foreclosure

Originally published in Riverwise Magazine

The dual issues of water shut-offs and tax foreclosure are well-known causes of individual and collective harm. In both cases, bills are inflated beyond reasonable or affordable levels. In both cases, those high bills can lead to people living without the basic human rights of water and shelter. In both cases, the result is often “passive eviction,” wherein people move out not because they were overtly forced out, but because their home is no longer habitable. Even the numbers are similar: as of this spring, another 17,000 Detroit families face water shut-off and that same number of occupied homes are at risk of tax foreclosure.

It is fairly common knowledge that an unpaid water bill can become a lien on a home that can contribute to tax foreclosure and the loss of ownership. What’s not as commonly known is that tax foreclosure often contributes to water shut-offs. A recent policy by Detroit Water and Sewerage Department (DWSD) is making it impossible for residents of tax-foreclosed homes to get water on, or forcing them to take on debts that were never their responsibility.

 

For years, DWSD has been moving away from “Resident” bills to bills in a person’s name. Resident bills are issued to whoever lives in the home, but are ultimately the responsibility of the owner, whereas a bill in a person’s name is personal debt that DWSD can pursue against that individual even if they leave the address. DWSD uses water shut-offs as an opportunity to require a resident to put the account in their name, which often means assuming any existing debt on the account as their responsibility.  To shift from a Resident account to an individual account, a person must show their lease or a deed, proving that they have a right to live in that home. For foreclosed properties, the Wayne County Treasurer is technically the owner from April 1 through the end of the year, when it transfers title to auction buyers (November in most cases). In the meantime, residents don’t have the paperwork they need to satisfy DWSD’s policy.

 

The policy is unnecessary because a person assumes responsibility when they put the account in their name. It’s burdensome because it is not legally necessary to have a written lease or deed to occupy a property. It’s harmful because there are literally thousands of homes owned by the government, for which there are no leases or deeds. The upshot is that if you happen to live in one of the 17,000 occupied homes in tax foreclosure or you happen to be in one of the 17,000 homes facing water shut-off, you may have no legal means of getting your water back on for many months.

 

There is much to hate about tax foreclosure, but for all its harms, the silver lining is that it clears away liens like taxes and water bills. The truth is that water bills are subject to be waived by tax foreclosure, so why are thousands of tax-foreclosed homes having their water shut off? DWSD doesn’t adjust the water bill for a foreclosed property when it is foreclosed April 1.  Rather, it waits until Wayne County Treasurer deeds over the property to a new owner. That’s often too late for the people suffering in those homes under a dry tap.

 

Under this process, the person who reaps the benefit of that write-off will be the new owner, not the person who lives there. Residents face a terrible catch: you can’t get water until you own the property, and you can’t own it unless you run the gauntlet of the auction and survive for months without water.

 

The problem is not limited to tax foreclosure.  Many thousands of occupied homes are owned by the Detroit Land Bank Authority (DBLA). DLBA eventually addressed this problem by issuing special letters to residents in their “buy back” program, to allow them to have water access while they are in the process of buying back their homes. Unfortunately, this is limited to a few hundred people in the program, not to the many thousands who live in DLBA houses or those who have already been driven out due to lack of water.

 

In response to pressure from advocates, DWSD has agreed to accept letters produced by the Wayne County Treasurer, similar to those issued by DLBA, in lieu of a lease or deed. Wayne County Treasurer writes these upon request by advocates, and, presumably, residents can take these letters to DWSD and create an account in their name. Under this policy, residents in tax-foreclosed homes should be able to get water on in their name with a clean slate. (If a bill is already in a person’s name, it will remain their responsibility.)

 

The letter is absurd as a solution given that DWSD has full knowledge of which properties are in tax foreclosure or are owned by the DLBA.  This information is public data. The letter “solution” creates yet another series of hurdles to jump through for those who have already suffered immeasurably through the combined traumas of housing and water instability.  Most residents who need it have no idea that such a letter even exists.

 

Even for those individuals who have this letter, the fight is far from over. As recently as May of 2018, a resident of a foreclosed home with a water letter from WCT was told her only option to avoid water shutoff was to assume the debt of the former owner. She agreed to pay $280 per month in addition to her monthly usage because she was under duress and had no other means of avoiding the shut-off for her and her grandchild. For this to happen even under the persistent watch of advocates essentially means that hers is a best-case scenario.

 

The solution? A moratorium on shutoffs for tax-foreclosed properties and/or an automatic waiver of ongoing water charges at the time of the foreclosure, not at the time of the sale.

 

In 2014, Detroit shocked the nation with 33,000 water shutoffs and nearly 24,000 tax foreclosures.  Public awareness of these issues and public outcry against them have died down, but these violations continue, and are no less inhumane now than they were then.

 

What Detroit lacks in traditional forms of wealth, it makes up for in vast resources of land and freshwater. Yet the resources we have in greatest abundance are the same ones that our government has taken as collateral for a fraudulently derived debt.  DWSD needs to wake up to the reality of the many thousands of Detroit homes that don’t fit into the convenient box of “owner” or “renter,” and provide a way to allow residents of government-owned homes to have access to water. They should regularly update records of government-owned and tax-foreclosed properties, they should allow water access to those willing to pay, and they should facilitate the transition of those properties into private ownership.  In the meantime, irreversible water shutoffs continue to plague thousands of families in post-bankruptcy Detroit.

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