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Scheda «Tribunale Internazionale degli sfratti»

Lunedì, 19 Settembre 2016 09:24:40

General Information

Poor and low income people
1 (Housing), 2 (Land), 3 (Entire neighbourhood)

Description of case of forced evictions

2 (underway)
Over the last decade, poor and low income residents of Detroit, Michigan, USA have had their water rates increase over 120%. For customers who have been unable to keep up with the cost of water and sewage services, the bills were transferred by the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department ([DWSD], under the direction of the Mayor of Detroit,) to the homeowners' property taxes. The bills typically ranged from several hundred dollars to thousands of dollars, and made it more difficult for low income people to pay their property taxes. This resulted in at least 10,000 homes going into foreclosure and being confiscated by the government because of added water debt that people could not afford. In 2014, the practice of mass water shutoffs was escalated dramatically and nearly 3,000 homes had their water turned off each week. In fall 2014, the City of Detroit stopped the practice of placing unpaid water bills on property taxes because it was causing additional problems with abandoned homes and other housing market concerns. We continue to fight this battle against water shutoffs and home tax foreclosures on poor people. For specific housing evictions, there are three cases in 2016 that are emblematic of the Detroit housing crisis for low income and poor people: 1) In May, a single mother of four young children and a teenager who were forced to open their home for inspection by Children’s Protective Services (CPS) and the Detroit Police Department, and, subsequently, were told to report to the CPS office with the children. CPS declared the home unfit for children because of faulty electrical and plumbing systems. Fearful for the custody of her children, the mother sought help from MWRO. 2) In June, a single mother and her teenage son who were court-evicted from their home after her home was tax-foreclosed by a land contractor who failed to make agreed upon payments. The resident was a victim of predatory lending and real estate developers who failed to uphold their contract with her. The court bailiff and Detroit Police Department forced their way into her house and tossed her belongings into a dumpster despite community protests, including MWRO. 2) In July, a single mother with disabilities and her two young sons were told by their landlord they must leave the home they were placed in by an unscrupulous agency. The household water was turned off in January 2016 because of the owner’s failure to pay the bill, reportedly approximately $17,000. The mother’s health conditions prompted a social worker to report the home’s conditions to CPS who said the children and mother would be placed in separate foster care arrangements if they did not find another place to live. MWRO intervened to move the family and stave off CPS.
More than 200,000 residents have had their residential water shut turned off (approximately 1/3 of the city), and approximately 10% of these households have had their water bills placed on home property taxes. The number of homes that were foreclosed on because of a household’s inability to pay the property taxes in 2015 was approximately 28,000, affecting nearly 80,000 people. This year there are about 18,000 tax foreclosures that affect about 51,000 residents. It is not possible to determine a number of how many women and children are affected but we know that a majority of affected people are women and elders.
Water department and tax officials say water rates must increase (nearly double digit) every year because there is less water is being used, more infrastructure repairs are needed and overhead costs are constant. They publicly state that low income residents do not want to pay their water and tax bills and would rather pay for cable television service and gamble in casinos. Additionally, they blame homeless people who inhabit an abandoned house without authorization (i.e., squat) and label them deviants who choose not to pay rent or property taxes, and have no desire to work and be responsible. We know that local officials are desperate to collect water and property tax revenue because of consistent poor management, underlying privatization efforts and on-going austerity measures that have affected local and state governments. At the federal level, the cost of war and imperialism has meant local communities are suffering to meet the costs of public goods and services, while international corporations seek to seize municipal assets. Residents are unable to pay for the cost of public and private goods and services, including resources needed for basic human needs, because of capitalism’s devastation of local economies, the exportation of living wage jobs by corporations, and the destruction of the welfare state safety net. In addition, in Detroit we find more low income and poor renters who were told that water is included in their rental agreement are finding, unexpectedly, their water service disconnected because the landlord did not (or can not) pay the bill. Sometimes when a water bill is very high and a resident cannot afford to pay the bill, the family will leave the residence. However, who moves into the home next is responsible for paying the old water bill before new service will be provided. Officially, this is water department policy. Unofficially, the multitude of water and housing problems, along with unaffordable housing for low income people, are believed by many residents to be part of gentrification efforts to rid poor people from market-sought sections of the city; and to clear large sections of the city for new, green infrastructure zones that will reduce the new for vast infrastructure repair needs and costs. Many poor people cannot find and/or afford market-rate housing so many have moved into abandoned housing that is publicly owned by local authorities, including the City of Detroit, Detroit Land Bank, Michigan Land Bank and Wayne County Treasurer. Other long-time abandoned homes are owned by banks who have foreclosed and evicted people and have been unable to sell the homes to other people in this difficult economy. The Michigan State government has passed laws declaring unauthorized home inhabitants, occupiers, or “squatters” to be guilty of a felony if they are caught in a house without a rental agreement, regardless of how long a house has been abandoned. There are official and unofficial efforts to move homeless and poor people out of the city center and into parts of the city with less services and resources, as well as out of the city boundaries.
Pertaining to evictions from water debt on home property taxes, there are thousands of cases between the years of 2000-2014. The significant loss of home ownership due to property tax foreclosures over the past decade has affected approximately one-seventh of the population, or 150,000 people. The housing cases we submit took place this year in May, June and July, 2016.
The damages vary and are economic, psychological and social and include: the loss of a home that is paid off or debt free; loss of payments believed to be going toward the purchase of a home through a land contract; a family home lost to unaffordable tax payments; lost wages and school time for children; physical and emotional family trauma and fear from forced evictions and threats of child custody removal from parents by child protective authorities; intimidation by and loss of privacy rights and protections from the local police department; lack of court justice and excessive force in court-executed home evictions; loss and damages to personal belongings from forced evictions; excessive and unanticipated costs associated with evictions, relocations and re-establishment of home essentials; community loss of neighbors, security and services and more.
Women and children are always disproportionately affected, especially people of color and the poor. Women are oftentimes fearful of local authorities and sometimes will separate their families by placing children with other family members or friends to prevent their children from being removed from the parent’s custody, especially when threatened by CPS representatives for having an unsuitable home for children. We also see more senior citizens or elders suffering the loss of their family home when they live on limited fixed incomes. These situations for poor women and children have become more frequent and dire for poor women and children. In 1996 the federal government placed five-year, lifetime time limits on public (cash) assistance benefits for families.
The public authorities are the District Courts and Appellate Courts; the City of Detroit (especially the Mayor); the Detroit Land Bank Authority, the Michigan Land Bank and the Wayne County Treasurer’s Office; the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department, and the Great Lakes Regional Water Authority. The private actors include Dan Gilbert, a who owned Quicken Loans and the Cleveland Cavaliers; Roger Penske, auto-racing mogul who owns Penske Corp.; and the Illich Family who own several professional sports teams, stadiums and the Little Caesar’s Pizza Corp.

Support, measures taken and follow up

sì (yes: which?)
Yes, they are supported by local grassroots and non-profit groups. They include MWRO, United Community Housing Coalition (UCHC, Detroit), Detroit Eviction Defense (DED), Moratorium Now (MN), Detroit People’s Platform (DPP).
The measures have varied depending on the eviction issue and resolution needs of the family. For one family, they were living in an abandoned home that they inhabited (the city calls it “squatting”). The home has been in need of many repairs to make it safely habitable so the mother has been doing what she can to fix things (such as broken doors, windows, electrical and plumbing problems) while caring for four young children. Social workers reported suspicions about so CPS workers made multiple attempts to go inside the home. Each time the mother refused so on another attempt, a CPS worker brought with them Detroit Police Department officers who demanded to be allowed inside the home. She complied and they walked throughout her home open doors and cupboards and taking notes of everything they saw. At the end of the house examination, the CPS representative told the mother to meet her at the CPS office with the kids. A short time later, the mother called MWRO in fear her children were going to be taken from her. Instead, she came to the MWRO office which is located at a church in search of safety and sanctuary. MWRO spoke with the CPS worker and a supervisor who were concerned that the family did not arrive at their office as told. MWRO intervened and made special arrangements to place the family in transitional housing where they could stay for up to 90 days to receive support to keep the family together, and until other repairs could be made at the house they had occupied. In another situation, the family was working with housing activists to seek court intervention and to stage all-night vigils at the home. They called for supporters to arrive at the home each day by 5am, in case the Sherriff Bailiff (court-appointed evictor) arrived early to toss out the family’s belongings from inside the home. On the day that the bailiff was scheduled to arrive, many housing defenders were present and saw the dumpster container trucks coming down the street toward the home. We used our vehicles to block the street entrance so they could not park while others parked vehicles in front of the house. Violence ensued between protesters and the delivery drivers and one person fell and broke his leg in a scuffle. The Detroit Police Department arrived and issued parking citations to protesters vehicles that were blocking the trucks. The eviction was carried out by force and with police protection. At another home, the landlord gave the disabled tenant and her family notice to leave but they had nowhere to go and had no money. A social worker who was told by the disabled woman’s medical provider to visit and identify the household’s medical needs determined that she was required to report the parent to Children’s Protective Services (CPS) for not having running water in the home. CPS representatives visited the home and deemed it unsuitable for children. The mother was told she must move to another residence or she and the children would be removed from her custody and all would be placed in separate foster care homes. (Note: the government will pay someone else to care for your children under foster care but will not help you pay for expenses to care for your own children.) MWRO searched feverishly for weeks to find an affordable and handicapped accessible home that the family could move in to. A solution was found only days before the CPS deadline. The mother had to be lifted out of the second floor unit by several men and taken in a wheelchair-lift van to be transported to their new home. They had to leave behind most of their damaged and poor condition belongings so MWRO organized a community open house and invited people to take household items and used furniture to help the family start over. For thousands of homeowners who have lost or at threat of foreclosure on their home due to taxes, many have joined a lawsuit claiming the tax bills are inaccurate and larger than they should have been based upon regulations of the home’s value. Detroit has one of the highest number of property tax foreclosures of any American city since the 1930’s. Also, once foreclosed properties are vacated, they are often vandalized, burned down or stripped of all valuable materials, likes heating radiators, copper pipes, plumbing fixtures, electrical wires, window, doors and hardwood flooring so the house is no longer livable and then targeted by officials for demolition. This has repeated many thousands of times across Detroit causing some neighborhoods to be almost empty.
MWRO and other housing groups have had multiple meetings with local officials to help families stay in and get repairs made on abandoned homes; to get CPS support for family unity rather than family separation; to get banks and financial institutions to offer alternative solutions for families who have had trouble paying their mortgages and are evicted from their homes; and to push local tax assessors to provide alternatives to home foreclosures for people too poor to pay – or have been schemed in home loan fraud – instead of selling off their home to real estate profiteers. Affected persons have aligned with housing rights, water rights and anti-eviction groups to fight for legal protections, restitution and vindication. Plus, we have public protests and media campaigns to bring attention to the issues.
To claim compensation, housing groups and affected persons have challenged in court legal claims of mortgage payment default, false evictions, false affidavits, inaccurate tax assessments and more. Politically, housing groups have sought to change public policy and procedures that have not met due process or fair notice, especially when someone’s home is to be sold by the tax assessor’s office.
extra (yes: which?)
Yes, MWRO, UCHC, DED, MN, DPP and other local housing coalition groups. Plus, the American Civil Liberties Union.
All of the solutions by local authorities are not real solutions. They include: a) Moving the families to homeless shelters. (The families do not want to go there as they’re not safe, people fear being there, they are only temporary and people are stigmatized.) b) Pay to move into another residence. (Poor people do not have the money it takes to move one’s belongings, nor the security deposit and first month rent costs, plus new utility set up charges.) c) Move in with family or friends (Oftentimes, low income families do not have other people who can afford or have the space to take in another family.) d) Enter into payment plans that now have interest charges reduced from 18% to 6%. (Out of desperation, many low income people have entered into agreements they know they can’t afford, especially at the original higher interest rate.)
We have employed strategies and measures including legal representation for court eviction proceedings when banks have claimed a homeowner defaulted on a mortgage when, instead, many of those claims have been not circumstantiated. There is also a recent lawsuit by the ACLU and homeowners who claim their tax assessment is wrong and unjust. Additionally, we have protested many times at local authority offices to demand change and resolution of unjust and illegal practices. We have demanded that local authorities release publicly owned abandoned housing that is being protected for market-driven purposes instead of addressing low income, unaffordable housing and homeless crises. We are also participants in efforts for a renters’ day of action to bring attention to the problem of the lack of low income, affordable housing and market-driven goals that are leaving more and more people homeless, especially after Wall Street financial institutions have profited from a (inter)national housing crisis at their own creation.
The court initiatives are on-going through Detroit Eviction Defense as they defend individual households from eviction. They represent approximately one family per month. MWRO’s defense of mothers with children, especially against CPS custody removal, is on-going with different families, when required. The Detroit renters’ day of action is scheduled for September 22, 2016. There will be future events building from this that are yet to be determined. We are also looking at a follow up visit by the U.N. Special Rapporteur on Housing to follow up on the United Nations’ 2014 visit to Detroit on its water and housing crises.

Details of the person registering information

Sylvia Orduño
Michigan Welfare Rights Organization
23 E. Adams St., Detroit, Michigan 48226

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