“Poverty is a circumstance, not a value judgment.”

Solidly middle-class, white collar, and college educated, Darlena Cunha never expected to need to rely on the social safety net. But when confronted by unexpected, high-needs twins, a laid-off husband, and the reality that the house she had just bought had already lost the entirety of its value (and yet still needed to be paid off), she found herself driving a Mercedes to pick up food stamps. Please tamp down your knee-jerk reaction to yell “Sell the Mercedes!” at the screen, at least until you read the article.

In just two months, we’d gone from making a combined $120,000 a year to making just $25,000 and leeching out funds to a mortgage we couldn’t afford. Our savings dwindled, then disappeared. So I did what I had to do. I signed up for Medicaid and the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children.

Before she knows it, she becomes “you people,” someone trying to buy inessentials with food stamps and enduring the scorn of know-it-alls.

Once, a girl at the register actually stood up for me when an older mother of three saw the coupons and started chastising my purchase of root beer. They were “buy two, get one free” at a dollar a pop. “Surely, you don’t need those,” she said. “WIC pays for juice for you people.” The girl, who couldn’t have been more than 19, flashed her eyes up to my face and saw my grimace as I white-knuckled the counter in front of me, preparing my cold shoulder.

“Who are you, the soda police?” she asked loudly. “Anyone bother you about the pound of candy you’re buying?”

The woman huffed off to another register, and I’m sure she complained about that girl. I, meanwhile, thanked her profusely.

“I’ve got a son,” she said, softly. “I know what it’s like.”

Detroit Would Rather You Not Take Pictures of Its Ruins

I called Philp to ask him what people like me, outsiders with no knowledge of the city and getting this constant barrage of ruin-porn and gentrification panics, should know about what it's like to live there.

Risk Free Public Pensions Not Risk Free

A judge ruled yesterday that Detroit is eligible for bankruptcy and lifted protections on state pensions, which are guaranteed by the state constitution and previously widely regarded as safe and risk free. The ruling says that public employee pensions are not protected in a federal Chapter 9 bankruptcy (even though the state's constitution explicitly protects them), and this could have wider implications on the pensions of public employees in other states.

‘We Are Not Expendable’

This is a very nice story about a woman in Detroit, who, with her neighbors and some other nice people, fought her eviction from her home. She won! It is a fairy tale.

What Should a City Do When the Rent Becomes Too High to Afford?

Yesterday Ester wrote about median one-bedroom rents reaching highs of more than $4,000 in NYC, and earlier this month I linked to a story from Southern California Public Radio discussing the high rents in Los Angeles. As cities become wealthier and price out low-income workers and the middle- and creative classes, what can be done? Shaila Dewan examines this question in the It’s the Economy section of the Times Magazine:

The rules of the market say that in this situation, people should simply opt to live someplace cheaper. But in today’s economy, that’s not so simple. Detroit has very cheap housing, but unfortunately, all of it is in Detroit. Alternately, more desirable cities could build more housing to satisfy demand, but new developments don’t tend to have that effect.

Luxury towers are sprouting up, adding density to unlikely places, from the Brooklyn waterfront to San Francisco’s Mid-Market district. But adding inventory to the high end does nothing to help the middle — one of the many irritating peculiarities of the 21st-century boomtown housing market. Building new apartments can actually push rents higher, and amenities for the masses, like transportation and parks, may have the effect of pricing them out. Everyone wants to live in these places, so no one can afford to. What’s a global city to do?

Writer-in-Residency…FOREVER

If you’re a writer who’s willing to relocate, an organization called Write-a-House in Detroit, Mich., wants to GIVE YOU A HOUSE:

WAH Author-in-Residence will receive the deed to a house. For two years prior to receiving the deed, the WAH Author-in-Residence will live in the house rent-free. They will only be responsible for insurance costs and property tax costs. After two years, the deed will be given to the awardee as long as the selection committee and WAH Board agree that certain terms and conditions have been met.

The catch? Well the catch is that you have to live in Detroit. Also these are formerly abandoned houses, and while they’ll be 80% renovated, you are responsible for renovating it the rest of the way (which frankly, sounds kind of fun) (says someone who has never renovated a house).

The WAH Author-in-Residence will also be expected to:

contribute content to the WAH blog on a regular basis. participate in local readings and other cultural events use the home as their primary residence. In general, they will be responsible home owners, engaged neighbors, committed city residents and good literary citizens.

A People’s Court That Fails The People

Kat Aaron at the American Prospect has a fascinating/devastating profile of Detroit's 36th District Court, one of many civil courts in Detroit, and across the country, that are underfunded and failing their citizens. Civil court, as Aaron puts it, "is where the problems of income inequality and unaffordable housing and low wages and unemployment and poor education play out."

The Cost of Moving to a Bankrupt City

I'm working on a potential move to Detroit from Flint, Mich. in a few weeks. Of course, there's also that other bit of financial news about Detroit, too.

Donkeys in Detroit? DNC Considers Motor City for 2016

The Democratic National Committee asked fifteen cities to submit proposals to host its 2016 convention, and among the obvious contenders one is raising eyebrows: Detroit, Mich.

Conventions bring more than passionate partisans in funny hats. When delegates descend, they bring with them millions of dollars in revenue. (And occasionally some really awful pick up lines. A GOP delegate in New York tried to get me excited by saying, “Ester? That’s an old-fashioned name. I like old-fashioned women.”) Sometimes they revitalize the local sex industry! It can be a big deal to a struggling metropolis.

Bracing for Pension Cuts

At Newsweek, David Cay Johnson takes a closer look at the Detroit ruling lifting protections on state pensions, and explains some of the history that has led to the shortfalls all across the country. This, of course, is a huge deal for retirees who've worked who are bracing for pension cuts.

A Move to Detroit in Exchange for Student Debt Reduction

Garance Franke-Ruta uses her experience as a first-time homebuyer in D.C. in 2000—a time when the city was underpopulated and was enticing young people to buy houses with a homebuyer tax credit to help shore up its tax base—to put forward the idea that encouraging recent graduates to move to distressed cities like Detroit in exchange for a reduction in their student debt would not only be good for young people burdened by debt, but for distressed communities as well.

What Happened to Detroit?

Dream Hampton’s essay about her childhood home in Detroit, and her neighborhood’s evolution (devolution) from family block to blight, is  a small but important look at a changing American city: “We bought the house on Newport the summer before I began first grade, from a white family in flight.” It might perhaps leave you wondering what happened to Detroit, and so perhaps you should watch this short video) called: What happened to Detroit?