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Demolish! The Story of One Detroit Resident’s Home

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I met Dan on a cold October evening at a donut shop on the outskirts of Detroit, Michigan. Dan and his lawyer Mathew Clark organized a meeting with Detroit Eviction Defense (DED), a community group fighting housing displacement in the city. I had been working with DED for a number of years and was curious to learn more about Dan’s story. Over the course of an hour, Dan and Mathew filled us in on the details of his case.

In August of 2016, Dan filed a lawsuit against the Detroit Land Bank Authority, which is the department responsible for coordinating blight removal.  Blight removal is the term used to describe homes that are beyond repair and needing demolition. In the lawsuit, Dan claimed that the city unjustly evicted him from his childhood home by falsely claiming that it was blighted, destroyed a lifetime of his belongings by throwing them into a dumpster, and finally bulldozed his home to the ground.

Home demolitions are at the heart of Detroit’s so-called revitalization. Emerging in 2012, blight removal became a primary policy concern for the city with a study finding that some 78,000 of Detroit’s 380,000 properties had blight indicators.  This report helped to trigger nearly $300 million from the Federal Hardest Hit Fund Program specifically for this process.

While this federal program was originally conceived to help keep individuals and families in their homes after the 2008 housing crisis, the Obama administration allowed Detroit to use the funds for blight removal.  The spectacle of blight removal came together in an event where Mayor Mike Duggan ceremoniously live streamed the city’s 10,000th home demolition.

Dan’s story should be understood within this massive mobilization of monies and political maneuvering by the federal, state, and city government around home demolitions. What follows is an interview in comic book form, which I conducted with Dan shortly after out first meeting. In it Dan details the kinds of Kafkaesque violence perpetrated by the Detroit Land Bank Authority that categorized his home as blighted and had it demolished while he was still living in it.

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Jeffrey Wilson is a graphic novel author and Ph.D. Candidate in Geography at the University of Arizona. He published one of the first graphic novel interviews to appear in a peer-reviewed journal. His current comic book titled Instinct for Cooperation: A Graphic Novel Conversation with Noam Chomsky is set for release on Seven Stories Press in early 2018.  His academic and popular writing focuses on the intersection of foreclosures and health in Detroit, Michigan.

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