Detroit mayoral candidates pressed on foreclosure crisis

DETROIT — Three of this city’s zip codes are among the nation's top 25 for number of foreclosures. So it's not hard to see why the housing crisis and jobs are pressing concerns as Detroiters prepare for the Feb. 24 mayoral primary. Fourteen candidates are vying for the office.

The city's charter mandates this election to fill the remaining term of former Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick who stepped down in a sleaze and corruption scandal. The top two vote-getters in the Feb. 24 primary will compete in a May 5 runoff. But the entire process will be repeated later this year when the election of a full four-year-term mayor takes place with an August primary and November runoff. If the mayor elected in May doesn't live up to what was promised during the campaign, he or she will pay the price a few months later.

In one of the most-well attended candidate forums to date, a Feb. 9 event organized by ACORN pressed the candidates to give their support to the organization's home foreclosure relief platform.

The platform included calls for a one-year moratorium on foreclosures, a mandatory pre-foreclosure mediation process, having the city purchase foreclosed properties to be returned to affordable housing, and no foreclosure due to nonpayment of city taxes.

The Rev Andre Spivey, minister of St. Paul A.M.E. church, which hosted the event, signed the platform and called upon all the candidates to do likewise.

In addition to responses from the candidates on the housing crisis, several audience members testified about the turmoil they were facing.

Gloria Davis said she recently retired with a pension that does not cover her mortgage and taxes ($6,000 a year in taxes on a house valued at only $100,000), and she is now behind on her payments by three months.

A man who identified himself as Mr. Moore said he was the victim of mortgage fraud by an unscrupulous company. Though he offered to pay $23,000 toward a balloon payment to avoid losing his home, he said, the offer was refused, and after living there for 21 years, he was forced to move. The house is now selling for $9,000.

Another woman spoke of her 89-year-old mother who had lived in her home since 1946. Illness forced the mother to temporarily move into a nursing home and that cost forced her to refinance and eventually lose her home.

The forum was successful in getting most of the candidates to agree to parts of ACORN’s relief program.

A sampling of their comments seemed to signal they were getting the message:

Mayoral candidate D. Etta Wilcoxon said if 'Wall Street was too big to fail, the people who gave testimony tonight were too little to fail.'

We are in a crisis now, 45 thousand have had their water turned off, 'we don't have time for a process,” said Donald Bradley. “I'd stop it now if I was mayor.'

This problem is nationwide and of 'massive proportions.' It must also be addressed in Washington, said Jerroll Sanders.

We must keep people in their homes to keep the community stable, said Coleman Young ll. 'There is nothing in this city that can't be fixed with a good-paying job.'

Nicholas Hood III supported a foreclosure moratorium but also said we have to put people back to work to really solve the problem.

Freeman Hendrix indicated he would work to abate city taxes for those facing foreclosure.

Finally, current Wayne County Sheriff and mayoral candidate Warren Evans reminded the audience that as sheriff he recently had stopped foreclosures in the county. The city is going 'belly-up,' he said. “We are reaching a tipping point from which we can't come back. We have to collectively force Countrywide and the rest of the lenders to come to the table.'

jrummel @ pww.org