I spend a good deal of time in my car – a beat up old Volvo with 119,000 miles on it – and I can usually find whatever I need in the trunk – sleeping bag, tennis racquet, clothes. Still, I have never actually considered it the equivalent of my home, so I was surprised to read that in Detroit, the birthplace of the American automobile industry, a Chevy Malibu and a new house both cost $21,000. The car may be the better buy. My friend Charity, who has a degree from the University of Michigan, supports seven people across three generations on $12,000 a year. A few years ago, the city took her family's house by eminent domain to build middle-income housing. When she lost her next home to foreclosure, she sold everything she had and bid $2,500 to get the house back at auction. A suburban “investor” bid $3,000 . . . and then took her note for $10,000 in exchange for not evicting her family.
Yet Charity has dedicated her life to saving her city. She focuses on food security because nutrition is perhaps the greatest challenge facing the urban poor, and she spends her days nurturing the hundreds of urban gardens that feed growing numbers of Detroiters. Many have flowers as well as food, and they are tiny oases of beauty in a devastated city.
“I’m trying to starve the ugly,” said Charity. “But I cry.”
She will never give up: “I believe the community will win. We have no choice. The apathy cannot survive.”