BY Robert Miller
The courts offer no solution to the housing crisis in Michigan. Rather, they are part of the problem. Until tenants organize to defend their rights, their oppression will continue.
Abandoned housing is not an isolated problem. In general, society is abandoning the poor. Tenant court is by no means atypical. It s representative of the kind of court poor people constantly run into.
The Detroit tenants court has 150 cases on the docket every morning. Half the tenants don't show, and those who do average three minutes before the judge. Although the courts are indecently overcrowded, no judges have been added to the common court in years.
"The poor receive little attention in common court," says Marty Scott, an attorney with the Detroit Landlord Tenant Clinic. "They simply cannot afford to wait or appeal.
"Their right to appeal is purely speculative," Scott added, "but they can't afford to stay in the kind of house they're living in either. They are basically stuck."
Scott, who is currently representing most of the tenants involved in the Detroit public housing rent strike, continued: "Our forum is not the court. The problems of tenants are not going to be solved by city hall, the Housing Commission or the courts. We are trying to direct peoples' attention away from the courts and towards the housing projects.
"We must form a union, fight for recognition as the bargaining agent for all public housing tenants, and create a vehicle for mass action. Only tenants themselves can improve their condition."
There are ample reasons not to emphasize the courts. Judges are often landlords, or are tied to real estate interests. They usually come from middle-class backgrounds and have no idea what it means to live with cockroaches and rats.
The courts are actually a collection mili for landlords. For the judge, the real problem is the called 'bad tenant' who has withheld rent. They rarely believe that the landlord, who has knowingly and willingly violated the housing code and forces tenants to live in degrading conditions, is the criminal.
The most basic reason why the courts are part of the problem, however, is that they isolate tenants. Of course tenants shouldn't ignore the courts, and they should respond to attacks when attacked through the courts.
But as Darnell Summers, a leader of the Inkster public housing rent strike, states: "The courts are not the means to our end. The situation of tenants is part of a general attack on the poor.
"In summary, the real aim of this strike (in Inkster) is to show people that they have to rely on themselves, their community, and their class," Summers said.
We'll be following the progress of rent strikes throughout the area in this space- watch for more news as it happens.