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. Occasionally, two solids would collide, which sometimes resulted in larger configurations and new types of combinations. Other times a solid fractured 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 provoked a great reaction. The speck, thus infused, could not contain its new energy and cleaved apart. But this reaction was different than those collisions that splintered solids apart. This reaction caused the physical to separate from the aphysical, 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 more about where I didn’t belong than where I did.

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. Jaros. He was standing in front of the house as I passed by. I inquired if this was his home: “Yes it is and I have lived here my whole life!” he proudly told me. 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 as an offering and, in return, he would share about his time there. 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 for a person to be satisfied with what they 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, recalled the address, and summoned the nerve to drop by. Nobody home. I returned for a second time an again no one answered my knock. Was the Mr. Jaros asleep so early or just gone? A neighbor walking his big yellow dog passed by me on the sidewalk and told me that the old man had done what it took most people significantly less time to do: he had 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 get 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

An eclipse poem

On the eve of the eclipse,

she slept with her head downhill,

and woke to the sound of woodpeckers chiseling their faces into the forest,

and, when she rose to look for them, she found, instead,

a green plump grasshopper, which she showed to another camper,

through the thin screen of his tent, with a smile.

For the first time, she took in the campsite:

a dozen clear pods rose up from the ground with sleeping bags and sleeping bodies inside.

One man lay on a low cot in the open air like a silent offering to a distracted god.

The trees rose high above the grounds, unreachable limbs framing the scene with a gentle grandeur.

She found her keys sitting obediently on the front seat of her unlocked car, and retrieved her worldly things.

Regarding the portable toilet warily from a distance, she squatted to pee on the forest floor,

and saw a shiny red on the inside of the fabric of her underwear.

Oh.

The same moon that would block today’s sun had taken the time to summon her tide.

She smiled at the endless bounty this day had already brought her, before she’d uttered a single word,

and returned to the tent with the notebook she had once given herself, and a pen, to write about the magic of the day.

There, she returned to her sloping recline, slipping beside the bodies of her friend and Luca the dog,

and as she lifted the pages above her to write, she caught sight of an identical version of the book she held in her hands floating just out of reach,

the notebook she had once given her friend, suspended from the top of the tent in a pouch.

And the trees crowned the sky above her and the stars shone without being seen. Shielded, for now, by the light of the uninterrupted sun.

 

 

written in the Shawnee National Forest

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.

The Moment

The moment is…

a kiss and not a word,
a what and not a why,
is you without your story,
unscripted.

The moment is
the drop of water you can taste on your tongue as you dive into the sea- you in the ocean, the ocean in you;
is the chorus of a flash rainstorm percussing off a dozen rooftops- teasing your ear with the impossible task of isolating a single sound
is the time in the parking lot between driving and walking- where you stop the car and the radio is silent and the key is dropping into your purse while the other hand opens the door and your face feels the motion of the outside air for the first time.
is the dream that hovers over you in wisps of color and light as you lie in bed just before you mind regains Time for the day
is any connection of any life with any other life, or with a unbodied element of god’s infrastructure;
is a place not rooted in geography,
that follows wherever you go;
is time that is free from time,
that disappears as soon as you name it;
is abundant,
elusive,
acoustic,
effusive;

The moment is
Is a dance and not a worry
Is a breath and not sigh
Is a kiss and not a story
Is a kiss and not a sorry
Is a kiss and not a word.