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Broke: Hardship and Resilience in a City of Broken Promises

by Jodie Adams Kirshner

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352591,514 (3.88)None
"Essential...in showcasing people who are persistent, clever, flawed, loving, struggling and full of contradictions,Broke affirms why it's worth solving the hardest problems in our most challenging cities in the first place. " --Anna Clark, The New York Times "Through in-depth reporting of structural inequality as it affects real people in Detroit, Jodie Adams Kirshner'sBroke examines one side of the economic divide in America" --Salon "WhatBroke really tells us is how systems of government, law and finance can crush even the hardiest of boot-strap pullers." --Brian Alexander, author of Glass House A galvanizing, narrative account of a city's bankruptcy and its aftermath told throughthe lives of seven valiantly struggling Detroiters Bankruptcy and the austerity it represents have become a common "solution" for struggling American cities. What do the spending cuts and limited resources do to the lives of city residents? InBroke, Jodie Adams Kirshner follows seven Detroiters as they navigate life during and after their city's bankruptcy. Reggie loses his savings trying to make a habitable home for his family. Cindy fights drug use, prostitution, and dumping on her block. Lola commutes two hours a day to her suburban job. For them, financial issues are mired within the larger ramifications of poor urban policies, restorative negligence on the state and federal level and--even before the decision to declare Detroit bankrupt in 2013--the root causes of a city's fiscal demise. Like Matthew Desmond's Evicted,Broke looks at what municipal distress means, not just on paper but in practical--and personal--terms. More than 40 percent of Detroit's 700,000 residents fall below the poverty line. Post-bankruptcy, they struggle with a broken real estate market, school system, and job market--and their lives have not improved. Detroit is emblematic. Kirshner makes a powerful argument that cities--the economic engine of America--are never quite given the aid that they need by either the state or federal government for their residents to survive, not to mention flourish. Success for all America's citizens depends on equity of opportunity.… (more)
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The United States has turned into a machine extracting wealth from all those who are already not very wealthy. Detroit’s bankruptcy and the methods it (and the state of Michigan) chose to try to recover had real and often very bad impacts on the people who lived there, on whose ill-resourced backs Detroit relied. Tax foreclosures kicked people out of their houses, leading those houses to become abandoned and deteriorated. Detroit rents were in the top five in the United States, but landlords didn’t bother to pay their (often overestimated) taxes. Michigan’s Republican elected leadership gutted state taxes, requiring Detroit to turn further to property taxes, fines, and fees. Detroit residents unable to pay incredibly high car insurance rates—in part based on inflated medical prices—got very expensive tickets and lost their licenses, then having to choose between working (since bus service had been slashed) or risking further fines and even jail. With Michigan spending on tax incentives for business instead of education, residents were on their own, including in finding a decent education for their children. Despite the incredible persistence of most of the individual characters in the book, it’s a story of massive institutional failure. ( )
  rivkat | Mar 22, 2020 |
My family moved to Metro Detroit in 1963 for a better life. My folks did achieve their dreams--a blue-collar job, a home of their own, medical insurance, a decent income, and a pension to retire on. Dad loved his job at Chrysler.

Just a few years later my friends and I watched as planes with National Guard troops flew overhead and tanks lumbered along Woodward Ave., heading to Detroit. The city's legacy of racist policies had birthed rebellion.

Over my lifetime the once-great city plummeted into bankruptcy and stretches of 'urban prairie'.

Why do we remove people from homes, leaving the houses empty to scrappers and decay and the bulldozers? Isn't it better for all to have the houses occupied, assist with their improvement, to have neighborhoods filled?

Jodie Adams Kirshner's Broke relates the series of events and decisions that brought Detroit from vibrancy to bankruptcy. But Kirshner doesn't just give a history of racist housing discrimination and government policy decisions. We experience Detroit through the stories of real people and their struggles to achieve their dreams.

Homeownership is the American Dream. Detroit's homeownership rate was once one of the highest in the nation. Then, African American neighborhoods were razed for 'urban renewal' projects while redlining curtailed housing options.

Kirshner shows how governmental decisions on the federal, state and local level disenfranchised Detroit residents who valiantly endeavor to remain in their homes and neighborhoods.

Bankruptcy, we come to understand, is not just a fiscal issue but hugely impacts individuals' lives.

These six people's stories are moving and devastating. They dream of owning the home in which they live. They purchase houses, repair them, and discover back taxes and water bills follow the house, not the resident, and they can't pay them. Investors purchase houses and let them stand empty while the family who had been living there are forced out.

They can't afford the $6000 a year car insurance they need to work--and to get their kids to school as Detroit has no school buses.

Some are native Detroiters but others were drawn to Detroit's atmosphere and sense of possibility. They are unable to obtain mortgages to purchase empty buildings for development.

They are never sure if rent payments are actually getting to the landlord, or if the discount car insurance they purchase is legit.

House damage remains unrepaired by distant landlords, jeopardizing the safety of a woman and her child.

Meanwhile, Midtown and Downtown development draws suburbanites at the price of huge tax breaks while neighborhood needs are ignored.

Kirshner is a journalist and bankruptcy lawyer and teaches at Columbia Law School. Broke offers deep insight through compelling narrative writing that illuminates and reaches our hearts.

I was granted access to a free egalley by the publisher through NetGalley. My review is fair and unbiased.

I was granted access to a free egalley by the publisher through NetGalley. My review is fair and unbiased. ( )
2 vote nancyadair | Oct 10, 2019 |
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"Essential...in showcasing people who are persistent, clever, flawed, loving, struggling and full of contradictions,Broke affirms why it's worth solving the hardest problems in our most challenging cities in the first place. " --Anna Clark, The New York Times "Through in-depth reporting of structural inequality as it affects real people in Detroit, Jodie Adams Kirshner'sBroke examines one side of the economic divide in America" --Salon "WhatBroke really tells us is how systems of government, law and finance can crush even the hardiest of boot-strap pullers." --Brian Alexander, author of Glass House A galvanizing, narrative account of a city's bankruptcy and its aftermath told throughthe lives of seven valiantly struggling Detroiters Bankruptcy and the austerity it represents have become a common "solution" for struggling American cities. What do the spending cuts and limited resources do to the lives of city residents? InBroke, Jodie Adams Kirshner follows seven Detroiters as they navigate life during and after their city's bankruptcy. Reggie loses his savings trying to make a habitable home for his family. Cindy fights drug use, prostitution, and dumping on her block. Lola commutes two hours a day to her suburban job. For them, financial issues are mired within the larger ramifications of poor urban policies, restorative negligence on the state and federal level and--even before the decision to declare Detroit bankrupt in 2013--the root causes of a city's fiscal demise. Like Matthew Desmond's Evicted,Broke looks at what municipal distress means, not just on paper but in practical--and personal--terms. More than 40 percent of Detroit's 700,000 residents fall below the poverty line. Post-bankruptcy, they struggle with a broken real estate market, school system, and job market--and their lives have not improved. Detroit is emblematic. Kirshner makes a powerful argument that cities--the economic engine of America--are never quite given the aid that they need by either the state or federal government for their residents to survive, not to mention flourish. Success for all America's citizens depends on equity of opportunity.

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