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Land Justice as a Historical Diagnostic: Thinking with Detroit

March 2018

Sara Safransky


University of North Carolina Chapel Hill Professor Sara Safransky uses the historical, “justice-oriented” Case Study of Detroit to discuss the ways property relations are racialized and class-based. Looking through the prism of the post-recession years of the late aughts and early 2010s, Safransky illustrates the clear trend of gentrification, wealth disparities, and mortgage accessibility that are producing an affordable housing crisis in urban and post-industrial cities nationwide, particularly inflicting members of marginalized racial and sexual communities. Despite these troubling developments, though, the author posits that a new social movement for property rights and tenant rights is springing up to meet the problems of displacement and gentrification head-on.

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Policy Implications

Safransky’s conclusions suggest that a massive shift of power from wealthy landowners and landlords to marginalized communities and tenants. Ways this could be achieved is through strengthening unions, as the members of these communities would consequently have more tangible and intangible resources to organize against landholders/lords. Meanwhile, more directly, legislation could be passed that grants tenants the right to counsel in all eviction proceedings, banning source-of-income discrimination for renters, and placing state controls on how much rent may be raised.

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