We are working towards a better 2021 by exposing and filling the accountability gaps the pandemic has created or worsened in Detroit. The things at the top of our list of concerns are below. Help us keep an eye out. Reach out if you need us or want to talk through a tip or a story. We are looking forward to a brighter and easier 2021 with you! 

Real estate speculation: Even as record unemployment means more people are having a hard time paying rent the real estate market in Detroit hasn’t slowed down. The last economic crisis and the tax foreclosures that followed ushered in a boom of speculative buying that has been impossible to untangle from blight and vacancy today in Detroit’s residential neighborhoods.

Next year we expect the lawsuits against some of Detroit’s most notorious real estate speculators to move through the courts after being slowed down by pandemic-related case backlogs. In February, the city filed cases against father and son duo Stephen and Steve Hagerman and Micheal Kelly. Another case against Salameh Jaser was filed but then dropped

google street view of a Detroit property several years apart
Alex Alsup’s street view project, which you can find @ZugIslander is a necessary visual gut-punch of just how little time it takes a neighborhood to change or even disappear.

The city is suing over what it calls an “invest and neglect business model.” Their argument is that any enforcement tools like blight tickets, fines, and tax foreclosure the city relies on to keep properties in productive use are ineffective because the business model is the public nuisance causing widespread blight.

COVID-19 reinfections: The Michigan Department of Corrections has at least 115 people in their prisons that have tested positive for COVID-19 again more than 90 days after testing positive the first time. Angie Jackson from the Detroit Free Press broke this story that frankly deserves more attention and concern. 

Jackson spoke to people who are not COVID-19 “long-haulers” but tested negative in between their two positive tests, and we have had sources reach out to us saying the same thing. The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services has not yet responded to our questions about what they are doing to confirm whether or not these are in fact, reinfections, saying only, “We are reviewing case and test data to determine information about individuals who have had a positive test 90 days or more from their initial positive test.”

Prison health is public health, y’all. It’s important the state track down these answers and allow us to inform the public, especially as there are few precautions being taken to prevent outbreaks in MDOC facilities.

City Government: For the past few years, a few news organizations along with Citizen Detroit have been collaborating on a program out of Chicago called Documenters. Detroiters can get paid to attend city government meetings, take careful notes, and upload edited versions of those notes where everyone can access them. More civic participation and more citizen oversight of essential services and taxpayer money is a win-win! Here’s a New Year’s resolution you can cross off your list early, sign up to get info about upcoming trainings and events right now.

Keep the lights on: We’re still making our way through the most recent filing in the Michigan Public Service Commissions’ case concerning utility shut-offs during the pandemic. MPSC is now requiring Michigan’s private (but publicly regulated) utility companies to hand over more data about how many customers are getting shut off for nonpayment and how many are getting help through payment plans or state assistance. 

The increased transparency is great. Not so great is that MPSC reports people needing help to pay their bills are still having trouble finding it. Last month 1,726 Consumers Energy customers were disconnected because of nonpayment and 2,718 DTE customers were disconnected. Our earlier analysis of 2017 and 2018 shutoff data showed that more than half the customer’s shut off for nonpayment went more than a year before being reconnected.

Sarah (she/her) believes the best local reporting is a service, responds directly to community needs and reduces harm. Her favorite place in Detroit is her backyard on a summer evening.

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