May 20, 2018

What’s in a Name?

Head Heart Hustle Herald

Sunday, May 20 Edition

June 7th is judgement day for approximately 17,000 homes across Detroit that currently face tax foreclosure. Nearly 1,000 of them lie within the boundaries of my District. In many ways, I have to keep work separate from my campaign because I work for a nonprofit. On the other hand, the two are inextricably intertwined because my work every day is to paddle upstream against a law I hope to change in the near future.  

I cannot knock doors or make phone calls or send out mailers this time of year and NOT acknowledge tax foreclosure. Failure to address the hole in the floor of my district make me unworthy to represent it.

The money we raise through this campaign is not just to beat other candidates on the battlefield pf name-recognition, it is also to provide social benefit. So, this week, we are issuing a mailer to all residents of homes at risk of tax foreclosure this year that lie within District 4. I will be directing them, as always, to the doors of United Community Housing Coalition to make sure they get the help they need before it’s too late.


Knocking doors this week, I had two profound experiences. The first came when I was leaving the a solitary home that stood on a block full of vacant houses. I noticed the street sign said “Fenelon” and realized that I was in the part of town I’d heard about from my grandma’s stories about the corner store that her grandparents (my Great Great Grandma and Grandpa) used to run on Fenelon. I know the history of the losses here go back farther than “tax foreclosure.” Grandma remembers the address of the house her mom grew up in, and I looked for it but it doesn’t exist anymore- that entire neighborhood was turned into a detention facility.

Grandma calls the street “Fen-e-lun” but when I hear people refer to it nowadays they say “Fen-lon.” It makes me wonder if my white ancestors every chatted with the new neighbors long enough to agree upon the name of the street they lived on or if they just posted up the ‘For Sale’ sign. I don’t know what kind of direct or indirect role my family played in triggering the domino effect that made these homes fall one by one, but I plan to play a role in setting it right.

Earlier today, I knocked on a door and waited on the porch for an elderly man to lift himself from his armchair and greet me. I introduced myself, gave him my card, and we got launched into a 10-minute discussion about the race, my work, and housing issues. It was only then that he mentioned- in passing- that he had been the one to run that program. Oh my god, I’m talking to Ray Wojtowicz, the man who was the Wayne County Treasurer for 39 years. I can’t believe I didn’t recognize his face from the thousands of tax foreclosure statements I’ve looked at that featured his smile. I told him “well, you’re either going to love me or hate me, because my issue is your issue.” I can’t believe he lives in my district! I can’t believe we spoke for so long! I can’t believe I didn’t know it was him all that time! I am so glad I got that experience without the prejudice that I absolutely know I would have felt if I’d known it was him all along. I definitely plan to ask him some very candid input about policy when I’m elected.


The 4th District in Michigan’s State House of Representatives includes central and eastside Detroit and the city of Hamtramck. Its neighborhoods include Cass Corridor, Midtown, Woodbridge, New Center, North End, Boston Edison, Banglatown and Poletown. Then, well, there are a whole lot of areas that are pretty hard to describe because they don’t really have neighborhood names because the neighborhoods aren’t really there anymore.

If I’m elected, I’ll need to represent everyone: the kids that are too young, the transplants who keep their ID’s and car insurance in another city, the elders who are hospitalized, the prisoners who are incarcerated, the immigrants who don’t yet have citizenship, the people who voted for somebody else, and the people who voted for me too. I’ll also represent the land where there are no voters anymore and the houses that will never be homes again. Those people’s names aren’t on my voter rolls and their neighborhoods aren’t named on my map because they are gone. I will try to bring justice to their memory.


Do you want to help pay for print and postage of the foreclosure prevention mailer? Donate $19.99 or $199.9 in recognition of the year Public Act 123 was passed and the policy that has led to 1 in 4 Detroit properties being foreclosed by our own government became the law.

If you want to volunteer, that opportunity is always available. We’ll have a special day of doorknocking this coming Saturday. Sign up!

This week we’ll have the last in our 7-event neighborhood series!This Thursday at Burnside Farms 6pm 3341 Burnside Farms, Detroit. I truly think this will be our best one yet!


As always, feel free to contact me directly at 313-770-0818 or

Your candidate,



Michele Oberholtzer

May 20, 2018

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