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Blue Meltdown
Detroit Seizes Homes to Fund Corruption
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  • Anthony

    The Great Society Model of urban governance…??? Cronyism and identity politics…??? Whoa, here as elsewhere he who pays the piper calls the tune. That is, each of the major parties is usually alert to whatever may transiently pull devotees to their banners. Considering how most perform politically and think privately, this is the unforeseen result. Cities like Detroit and New Orleans are convenient and easy to caricature (and certainly invidious examples of past municipal profiteering). But, the dirty end of the stick (perhaps not as blatantly as New Orleans or Detroit’s constituents) perceptibly befalls the average constituent sans party of power – taxes and other ways. That said a caveat: the further one moves down the socio-economic scale the less the sweet-talking old political organizations deliver on behalf of the broad constituents – which may be point of piece.

  • Boritz

    What is the typical property tax bill for houses valued in the hundreds or even dozens of dollars?

  • JR

    “Single party political machines”? Can you please name a city where this mysterious machine was ran by Republicans? Because as far as I can tell, these “single party political machines” cities have been run by one particular party.

    • Kevin

      Good point. There were a few, such as some NYC suburbs but they were very uncommon in living memory.

      • Robert

        Were/are those Republican run NYC suburbs administered poorly/corruptly? If so which are they?

        • Kevin

          Nassau and Suffolk counties in Long Island from what I remember – but this was about 10-20+ years ago. In the latter 19th c of course there were Republican machines throughout much of upstate New York, as well as Philadelphia and I believe Ohio. Still in living memory, most machines have been Democratic.

  • Jacksonian_Libertarian

    Once again we see “The Party that cannot be named” being identified as a source of evil. Why can’t so many simply identify the Democrats as a criminal organization like the Mob, or the Mafia?

    • Corlyss

      For the same reason that jihad, terrorism, and Islamic radicalism are barred: we allow the enemy to dictate the terms of discussion.

    • John Stephens

      It’s never wise to upset a Wookie.

  • Maddog

    Mr. Meade, thank you for your tireless work pointing out the corruption within the Blue Model of governance. I agree, it is incomprehensible that Detroit’s corrupt government has worked tirelessly for the past 60 years to chase away the better off, entrap the poorer off, and now make them homeless. Ultimately, this lack of vision is a direct result of the Blue Model adherents believing in the model as secular religion. This converts the model from a tool in the socio-economic sphere to an axiom of truth which must be followed. We now know where that leads.

    Good luck in your long fight to help usher out the old and now unworkable Blue Model and usher in the new model, whatever it may be.

    Please ignore the petty whinging of my fellow commenters. Their tantrums may not move the ball forward but it makes them feel in control.

    Mark Sherman

    • Chris

      Whining does not have the first g; maybe it’s a typo. I wasn’t sure and actually did not know it had an h until now.

      • Maddog

        Vocabulary expansion time for Mr. Chris, whinge and whine are both words. Whine essentially means a long high pitched scream or cry. Whinge means irritating or peevish complaining. My fellow commenters are irritated that Mr. Meade has not named Democrats in the piece. They are whinging.

        • Chris

          You’re right. I’ve never heard that word spoken either. Pronounced “winj” sounding like “tinge.” I looked on Google before writing what I wrote, but I missed it; I see it’s there. Thanks Maddog.

  • Corlyss

    Bottom line: until the voters demand better this is what they will get.

    • f1b0nacc1

      Of course that comment goes double for the national level. As bad as Obama is, as long as he and his ilk are not punished by the voters, they will keep doing what they do…

    • Johnathan Swift Jr.

      I have not been to Detroit in years, but I spent some time in St. Louis this summer, which has actually lost as much or more of its population than Detroit, percentage-wise. Miles and miles of abandoned, run down, once-nice homes, lots of vacant lots where houses have been bulldozed, just incredible. The difference is that St. Louis remains semi-functional, still has nicely maintained areas and beautiful parks. However, when this new round of identity politics is over, who knows?

      There are similar areas in Topeka and other cities. The politicians have pushed the functional middle class out of the cries, this is not the “White Flight” narrative we are sold, but everyone who can afford to eventually leaves, which just exacerbates the problems because then all that seems to be left are some honest poor people, the elderly cowering in their houses and of course the criminals and the baby mamas.

      But at this point, it is hard to know what to do. Does everyone leave and do you drop a bomb on what is left? Its like a Love Canal caused by politicians. There is no effective alternative, virtually no remnant of the GOP is even left, then who wants to tackle the mess, it would take a strategic vision of a military genius and the patience of Job.

      I was brought up hating waste. My father was a Depression era gentleman and when he saw one of these crazy car dealers break a window in a commercial to demonstrate how they were smashing prices, he would get red in the face and tell me that was a week’s income for someone, that no one should just waste something like that. This is how I feel when I drive through a neighborhood of once beautiful homes, each full of old growth timber, often hardwood floors, moldings, nothing like the hastily thrown up “custom homes” I see in Las Vegas or Phoenix, without so much as a decent crown or baseboard molding. The waste, the fact that most of this isn’t even recycled, except for the pipes and wiring, stolen and sold by the meth addicts, is another crime.

      I think at the base of it, at least some of this is due to vengeful politics. Once minorities took over, as the middle class fled and many those who were left were bought off with promises, they felt like now it was time for them to get theirs, to create a new spoils system, to replace the old ward heeler politicians with a new class of race baiters, motivated by anger. They forgot that while the old type of people like Frank “I am the Law” Hague, who my father grew up under, at least delivered something resembling services, there was some veneer of competence. In Detroit, there was not only crass corruption, but rank incompetence.

      And, I don’t see that some sort of “Hipster Renaissance” led by the people at Detroit watches and such can do anything to stop the slide. The hipsters have not had measurable effect in other places I travel to, but there are some nice, functional enclaves in what were once abandoned industrial areas and run town neighborhoods. And, I suspect the gang bangers, who really run the inner city, because they are there 24/7 won’t welcome Obama’s pajama boys.

      In these cities, there is no defensible perimeter left. When only two or three houses with residents remain, it is like Ft. Apache, except often without Winchesters or Springfield and the enemy has AK-47s. What should have been done is to have the decent houses moved to neighborhoods where houses were torn down, in order to create complete, defensible blocks, functional neighborhoods, then creating large open spaces for parkland or urban farms. Even when South Central was at its worst, there were some beautifully kept neighborhoods. Indian Village in Detroit still appears to be intact, so it is possible. It would seem the only hope there is to abandon the rest and to form functional islands in Detroit, to essentially recolonize the city.

      • ChuckFinley

        Perhaps the most important quote from Frank “I am the law” Hague was, “I do not believe that 2% off the top is excessive for an efficient and well run government.” The fact is that Frank Hague’s Hudson County Democratic Party Machine knew how to steal in moderation. The current generation of Democrats are not moderate in their rapaciousness and kill the goose that lays the golden eggs with their greed.

        I am no longer young and naive enough to believe that honest politicians could fix the cities but perhaps if Democrats could learn to steal at a moderate 2% off the top, it would not be inevitable for all cities to follow Detroit.

        • Johnathan Swift Jr.

          Yes, your idea of “good, honest, graft” is probably correct. Instead, the politicians of today, democrat and republican, have signed onto these 3%/30/51 deals with law enforcement and fire. No one wants police or firemen to be paupers, but a solid middle class income and pension would be fine. Instead, many officers with just a bit of seniority are in the top 5% of wage earners.

          It just doesn’t seem possible for the cities, states to afford to pay thousands and thousands of employees six figure pensions. And, I know a lot of teachers making $80 – $100,000. Again, no one begrudges them a nice income, but there are a lot of them. In order to get votes and volunteers and especially campaign donations they have sold the taxpayer down the river. Especially with people living such long lives and being able to retire relatively early.

          A lot of people talk about fairness, but is it fair for some Cambodian immigrant to struggle, save and buy a small donut shop franchise, for the husband and wife to work endless hours to put their kids through school, often seven days a week, pay through the nose for taxes in California, New York or Illinois, then retire only when they are about to drop, then just collect a few thousand a month in social security because their business barely makes any money, then see their taxes pass to public employees retiring on 3, 4, 5 times the income at a much younger age?

  • John Stephens

    Scrap out the house yourself, use the money to move out of Detroit, and leave the city with nothing but bare dirt to foreclose on.

    • George Pepper

      I’ve worked in all neighborhoods of Detroit. There are blocks with no habitable dwellings and many vacant lots where houses used to be. The ones still standing have so many deferred maintenance issues, that they will have to be torn down. Unless you’ve been there, it is impossible to imagine how bad it is. It is positively third-world, just like places I’ve seen in central America and Asia.

      • Chris

        PJ O’Rourke had a great article in the WSJ last year or so the solution is to apply the same tax and legal rules to Detroit as were applied to Hong Kong before China took over.

        With all that infrastructure Detroit could be great again. But, it would require different people; makers, not takers.

    • Insufficiently Sensitive

      It would be educational to dig up the numbers on ‘insurance fires’ in Detroit, to see how many people might have financed their moving costs to elsewhere by employing flammables and a match.

      • gearbox123

        The exact number: “A lot.”

  • Fifty Ville

    FTPEU. (rhymes with “duck”) The Public Employee Unions.

    Pirates and thieves, every last one, blackmailing the public, the crabs in the pubes of a bloated bureaucracy.

  • EndOfPatience

    At the NYT web site – no place to comment on the article, which doesn’t mention what that political party might be.

    • gearbox123

      I’m shocked (Shocked!) that the NYT will not call out the Democrats.

  • This wasn’t the Great Society that Lyndon Johnson had in mind

    Baloney. This was exactly the Great Society that LBJ had in mind.

    • stanbrown

      anyone who read Caro’s book on LBJ would have to agree. LBJ was so corrupt that ‘corrupt’ is inadequate an adjective.

    • Johnathan Swift Jr.

      Two Thumbs Up, Way Up!

    • Robert

      You give LBJ far too much credit for forward thinking. The ramifications of the Great Society were never part of his thinking. His aim was very near term . . .Buying Votes NOW! Obama is using the same model. Expect a similar result.

      • Perhaps you aren’t familiar with the 1954 Johnson Amendment, in which then Senator Johnson lured houses of worship into government regulation and control.

        Same concept.

  • PubliusII

    Flee. Pack up your family, and whatever wealth you can carry, and flee. It’s your only hope in situations like this.

    Basically, due to the Democrat Party, these people have become economic refugees.

    • koblog

      Then, after fleeing, demand the same evil government in the city you arrive to.

      The cancer of Detroit spreads. Californians left for Colorado and ruined the place.

      • Johnathan Swift Jr.

        Well, I really don’t know if there were enough of the Californians to consume the host. I suspect that those fleeing Jerry Brown’s crazy train Utopia are a mixed bag, some lefties looking for a Rocky Mountain High or some Rocky Mountain Oysters, but also many conservatives and libertarians escaping the criminally confiscatory tax rates. So, in order to see which it is, we would have to know how many Golden Staters fled to Colorado and the political breakdown. Even if 60% were full on Chavistas, I don’t know whether there were enough to ruin Colorado.

        Me, I used to spend a lot of time in the Springs and elsewhere, so I suspect that you may find the biggest factor in the People’s Republic of Boulder and of course in every other university town, then every elementary school, high school and college. We are no longer assimilating anyone, even our native born, they are all being brought up to believe that America is not the “Last Best Hope,” but the worst nation in the history of humanity, a place so manifestly evil that it has to pay penance by not enforcing its own immigration laws, by accepting anyone who comes here, even foreign-born criminals or terrorists. So, I may be wrong, but I see the same extreme left antics all over, usually by native born people in Kansas, Minnesota, Ohio or Colorado, all of whom have been marinated in a form of cultural marxism from the cradle. So, its the system of mis-education to me that is at the core of the purpling of Colorado. No one from California gave you poor people Hickenpooper or your home-gown version of the dope-soaked occupoopers.

      • Gmama

        They were too stoopid to realize the reason they couldn’t afford to live in CA were the politics, moved to CO and voted for the same crap.

  • InklingBooks

    If my city took almost an hour to respond to a 911 call, as is often true in Detroit, I imagine that I would behave like these unfortunate Detroit homeowners and refuse to pay my property taxes too.

    Foreclosure is also a stupid move. The people they’ve evicted will often leave the city, ending the other contributions they make to its economy and tax base. This badly run city won’t keep these houses up or sell them quickly. They’ll become rundown and sell for a pittance years from now—if they even sell at all.

    Perhaps the only practical move the city can make is to lower the salaries and retirement payments for public employees and instead pay then in homes. Reduce their income by perhaps $10,000 a year and give them one of these homes or empty lots instead. It’d give those public employees a belated stake in a city they have treated so badly.

    • Insufficiently Sensitive

      They’ll become rundown and sell for a pittance years from now—if they even sell at all.
      It’s now customary to plow them under and raise crops on the property. A nice insurance fire makes a moving ceremony to begin the process.

  • koblog

    The problem is public employee unions. Police, firemen, school teachers, school administrators and city employees.

    The unions negotiate their sweetheart contracts with politicians who promise the public’s money and then leave office. The only party not represented in the negotiations is the taxpayer, who has no vote, but has to pay, forever.

    This is not management vs the workers. Police, fire, school and city employee management is in the same union. The unions threaten to strike against hapless taxpayers. The politicians who sign on to the contracts do not pay. Politicians actually vote themselves raises or take corrupting bribes.

    The losers are always the taxpayers.

    Now, why those taxpayers continue to vote in politicians who rob them is beyond me.

    • Johnathan Swift Jr.

      I think it is because people are simply swamped by the media and the school system, then come to believe in this form of socialist religion, with all the faith of a zealot, so almost nothing seems to disabuse them of it.

      There was a book called “Memoirs of a Perfect Latin American Idiot,” that came out years ago on the long romance between Central and South Americans and the left. And, no matter how nothing they legist dictators do ever makes anything better (Venezuela for example) they keep voting for them. And even in Chile, where libertarian reforms really turned the country around has elected leftists again! It is really a battle that never ends.

      The pension crises looms. There are some great web sites that track it, Pension Tsunami, I think is one. In California there are a legion collecting more than $100,000 annually and of course some collecting four, five times that, incredibly, there is no ceiling.

    • Cymbaline

      Because they have been brainwashed to believe that Democrats care about them, and Republicans don’t.

  • Chris

    Wonderful article. But where was this theme in 2008 and 2012? Romney especially, given the economic malaise that still persisted in 2012, should have pointed out that Obama’s policies were Detroit’s, New Orleans’, Chicago’s, and 1970s NYC’s. Voters need palpable illustrations and examples why the tax and spend model leads to THEIR ruin even if it seems they are getting something for free short term.

    • gearbox123

      Today’s Low Information Voter prefers a pleasant lie to the uncomfortable truth. We’ve been told since the 1960s that everybody could have everything they wanted and “the government” would provide it. Now the chickens are coming home to roost, because – oops – turns out “the government” is really funded by “the taxpayers.”

  • You know, far be it from me to defend Detroit’s governance, but I thought that losing your home if you fail to pay taxes was perfectly normal . . . in a place like Detroit, especially, placing a tax lien on a home is a particularly empty threat when the homes sell for so little. But here in Illinois as well, one periodically reads of the little old lady who loses her home when it’s auctioned off for failure to pay property taxes, because she was no longer able to manage her finances. Maybe this is a regional thing?

    • gearbox123

      I think what’s startling to people is the scale: 1 in 10 homes in Detroit? That’s a number from the bowels of the 2008 depression. Well, this is the blue state model melting down – the beginning of the end. From here on it only gets worse, I bet.

    • Fifty Ville

      Nope, that’s exactly what happened in the 70’s in California. The sprawl growth of Los Angeles fueled a boom in new construction and a bubble in housing costs. Formerly quiet little middle class communities were suddenly popular. Your property taxes went up based on assessed values, not at the time of a sale. Little old ladies suddenly had a $10,000 property tax bill to deal with, and were forced to sell to pay it. Rising property values tied in to a taxation scheme that penalizes the fixed-income elderly is what led to the taxpayer’s revolt, which created Prop. 13, the people’s property tax limitation law. The California Democrats are still furious about it to this day because it prevents them from financing all their high-cost idiot socialist ideas.

      • Dustoff

        Bingo. I saw this happen in San Diego.


    “This wasn’t the Great Society that Lyndon Johnson had in mind,……”

    Supposition! Perhaps it is what LBJ envisioned……and obviously what the modern-day Liberals approve of.

    Great Society = Plantation full of `Stupid’ Voters

  • Robert What?

    Can someone tell me – who in their right mind would buy one of these forclosed houses? Detroit doesn’t get any money from them unless they are sold to people who will pay delinquent and future taxes, which could be ruinous. Sounds like Detroit will have a massive inventory of empty houses it can do nothing with. I wouldn’t buy a house in Detroit for $1.

  • gearbox123

    My advice (another commenter beat me to it, but I’m going to say it anyway): Get out of Detroit. Pack up your stuff and run for it. Nothing good is going to happen in Detroit from here on out.

  • sukietawdry

    And what was the Great Society LBJ had in mind? It would appear his goal was to create a populace dependent on government largess with that dependence accruing to the benefit of the all-powerful Politiboro. I don’t think he envisioned Detroit, but Detroit is the inevitable result of his kind of economic and social engineering.

  • rusty_armor

    MMmmmm. Wouldn’t it make more sense to “bankrupt the rich to save the poor”? This seems to me to be so … so … unDemocrat.

  • dawnsblood

    I must be missing something here. Houses in Detroit have been selling for a couple hundred dollars a piece for literally years now. How can someone have trouble paying property taxes on a % of a couple hundred dollars? Are they over assessing the value of these properties by many thousand fold?

  • Dennis Neylon

    Many of these properties in Detroit are owned by rental slumlords who buy the properties at tax auctions for a fraction of what they are worth (dragging down property values for home owners in the neighborhood). These slumlords make no improvements or repairs (many properties have multiple code violations), rent them out to Section 8 households (that’s government paid rent), and pay no taxes until the city forecloses again. Some will then buy the properties under another name and start the cycle again. Nearly half of the property owners don’t pay their taxes; those that do have ridiculously over-valued assessments (nearly all assessment appeals result in big reductions). The city has done blanket reductions of residential valuations the last two years and is in the midst of a total reassessment of all properties (some have not been properly reassessed in decades). The city also has atrocious record keeping of what it owns, and actual city owned and used properties have been sold at tax sales! I drive daily through a swath of the city to get to work. There are nice, stable blocks that would fit in in the nicest suburbs. There are also patches that are scary enough that police cars travel in pairs. I have been in the third world, and they would not waste buildings and land like they do here because they can not afford to. Detroit is beyond the third world — it is more like post-apocalypse!

  • Stick

    The absolute stupidity of ‘collectivization’ rears its ugly head. I know this was tre chic in the 1930s but history does not reveal a single case of success under this model. Yep, really progressive. I wonder if Obama has ever considered the ultimate dead end this philosophy yields. His model of utopia must be Zimbabwe.

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