The Cass Community Social Services (CCSS) Tiny Homes program advertised itself as a means for low-income Detroit residents to own a home. Community members believed that they were a part of a rent-to-own program. The program told participants that they would pay $1 per square foot of a tiny home each month. The CCSS website states, “At first, the residents will rent the homes. Anyone who remains for seven years will be given the opportunity to own the home and property.” Taura Brown, resident, and a donor, was stunned to learn that Rev. Faith Fowler, Executive Director, and CCSS would be reneging on their original terms, and she would not be a homeowner. Instead, she was being evicted.
Earlier this year at a meeting with Tiny Homes residents, Rev. Fowler announced that she would be evicting a resident because he had his bike stolen, his home broken into and had a car repossessed. The resident spoke up for himself and Taura backed him up that a resident being robbed is not a cause for eviction. Fowler ended up dropping the eviction of the four-year resident and instead is moving to evict Taura Brown. Fowler and her lawyer claim they don’t need cause to evict, and they can do whatever they want to the residents. Truth is they are retaliating against Brown because she spoke up, told residents their rights, and opposed Fowler trying to run things like a dictator. Taura and every resident has the right to speak up and join together to defend their interests and their rights.
Brown was diagnosed with stage five kidney disease and, after becoming disabled, began looking for affordable living options. Brown, like other residents, decided to join the program believing that she would eventually own her home. Though she says the program was flawed, they have now gone too far.
Taura has been vocal about her concerns with staff but has seen no effort to make improvements. The Tiny Homes neighborhood has dealt with issues of crime in the neighborhood, invasion of residents’ privacy, fair housing violations, fiscal irresponsibility, and unfair treatment among residents. Before Taura was accepted into the Tiny Home program, she had to be interviewed by all the Tiny Home residents. None of the white residents have had to go through this process. This is just one example of the institutional racism that Fowler is embedding into the program. Taura has never been late with rent, has met all the program requirements, but is facing eviction. This is clear retaliation.
To date, not a single resident has received a title or land contract that the CCSS program advertised. Reverend Faith Fowler told residents that they are just renters and do not own the property. All residents of the Tiny Homes deserve safe, fair housing, and for CCSS to put in writing that residents will get the deed to their homes after 7 years as promised. This is something common we are seeing in Detroit – developers, non-profits, and opportunistic pastors advertising low-income housing or a program to provide homeownership, but they don’t deliver. They cash in, and create more housing instability. As Taura says, “Faith Fowler is claiming to create opportunities for homeless people, but she clearly has no problem creating homelessness!”
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Picket is back on! A while back Detroit Eviction Defense put a call up for a picket, and we postponed it while Rev. Ross agreed to come back to the table to negotiate. We were excited to learn that Rev Ross finally agreed to sell Geraldine her home and land back for $14,200 and to complete the promised repairs to the front porch, roof, and back porch, as well as paying the back taxes owed.
However, after weeks of silence, Geraldine finally heard from the Storehouse of Hope lawyer only to learn that not only had he not drafted an agreement in writing, he didn’t even know a meeting had occurred. Storehouse of Hope’s lawyer is now saying they plan on selling the house to Geraldine (even though Geraldine has still seen no paperwork), but the price may go up if the repairs are more.
These delay tactics are standard practice for Joan Ross. What is alarming is that Ross also threatened more than once to sell the house out from under Geraldine or to evict her when the moratorium is lifted. We are concerned these delays are more than just procedural but Ross has returned to radio silence.
Join us Thursday, June 10th for a picket of the Storehouse of Hope Community Land Trust and it’s Director Joan C. Ross. We will be picketing the offices of Storehouse of Hope, Community Radio WNUC and the North End Woodward Community Coalition, which all have the same address. For more information check out our Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/DetroitEvictionDefense
We need to hold Storehouse of Hope and Joan Ross accountable and give Geraldine and her family back her home!
The article above also has revealing quotes from Reverend Ross about this land trust that was funded by community donations.
Reverend Ross states, “This is not a justice situation. This is really, if you want to say it, a tenant-landlord matter.”
She goes on to threaten to evict Geraldine once the CDC moratorium ends, “We can always sell our property to somebody else,” Ross said. “Or wait for the eviction moratorium to be lifted and go that route.”
We invite anyone involved in community work in the North End, or anyone connected to Storehouse of Hope to attend the picket, talk with Geraldine, her neighbors and supporters.
The Trust between Ross who owns the Land has been broken with the Community. Give the Land back to Geraldine who is Trusted by the Community.
Geraldine Smith-Bey came to Detroit Eviction Defense asking if we could help her secure title to the home she has been living in for almost 20 years. Located on the east side of Detroit in the East Village, part of “Islandview and the Greater Villages,” the home originally belonged to Geraldine’s grandmother, who passed it down to her mother and then to her. However, due to over-taxation, in 2015 Geraldine lost the house to the city for only $1,211. Storehouse of Hope bought the house to be part of a community land trust and offered to allow Geraldine and her sons to continue living there. She would pay a minimal rent and, with their help, she’d be able to own the home down the road. She said her relationship with the organization had deteriorated and back taxes on her home now stand at almost $3,000. The city has placed a notice of foreclosure on her home. Major repairs have also not been completed, leaving the house in a dangerous condition.
We support Black homeownership, and note that this is particularly important when it involves the generational ties such as in Geraldine Smith-Bey’s case. Therefore we were encouraged when a mediation meeting was set up earlier this month, and agreed to send a representative. When the meeting was called off by Joan Ross the day before, we saw that as a setback. DED had previously attempted to contact Storehouse of Hope and when our calls and emails went unanswered, sent Rev. Joan Ross, director of the organization, a registered letter.
On February 11 we received an email from an attorney who calls on DED to “cease and desist,” this letter is below. We still believe the way to resolve this problem is for Storehouse of Hope to provide Geraldine Smith-Bey with the deed to her home.