Sarah Cwiek

Sarah Cwiek - Detroit Reporter/Producer

Sarah Cwiek joined Michigan Radio in October, 2009. As our Detroit reporter, she is helping us expand our coverage of the economy, politics, and culture in and around the city of Detroit. Before her arrival at Michigan Radio, Sarah worked at WDET-FM as a reporter and producer.

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Sarah Cwiek / Michigan Radio

Many in Detroit's immigrant community are welcoming President Obama’s change of course on immigration.

The crowd at Detroit’s El Nacimiento restaurant listened quietly as the president outlined his executive order Thursday night, but broke into cheers and shouts of “bravo!” as he wrapped up.

The order makes a number of changes to immigration policy, affecting up to five million currently undocumented people.

Sarah Cwiek / Michigan Radio

More Detroiters living next to vacant lots will get a chance to buy them.

The city is ramping up a program to sell “side lots” to neighboring homeowners for just $100. The Detroit City Council recently transferred thousands of properties to the Detroit Land Bank Authority, which is running the program.

The land bank currently has a little more than 7000 properties in its inventory, says spokesman Craig Fahle.

Enrollment in the Detroit Public Schools is down slightly from last year—but the district is calling that a victory after years of double-digit enrollment declines.

According to unofficial data released Tuesday, the district counts 47,238 students across its 97 schools.

That’s down 3.4% from the prior year. But district spokesman Steve Wasko said it beat the district’s own budget targets, as well as demographer’s projections.

user BGilbow / Flickr

Metro Detroiters hard-hit by last summer’s flash floods have a bit more time to apply for federal aid.

The deadline to register with the Federal Emergency Management Agency was November 24.

But FEMA officials are now pushing it back to December 14.

They say that about 120,000 people have registered for aid so far — but they think up to 30,000 more should do so.

Total flood damage is estimated at more than $1 billion.

Lex Dodson

The deadline for people affected by last summer’s flooding in Metro Detroit to apply for most federal assistance is quickly approaching.

The Small Business Administration has approved at least $63 million in long-term, low-interest loans so far.

“As more and more loans are approved, that number will continue to grow,” says SBA spokesman Michael Peacock.

The “disaster loans” are available to homeowners, renters, businesses and non-profits.

The group tasked with making sure post-bankruptcy Detroit stays solvent met for the first time Wednesday.

The nine-member Detroit financial review commission will serve as the last word on the city’s financial decisions for at least three years.

The panel will review and approve all city budgets, major contracts and collective bargaining agreements during that “control period.”

via grandtraverseacademy.mi.schoolwebpages.com

A Traverse City school is closed this week due to a whooping cough outbreak.

County health officials say there are 10 confirmed of the illness also known as pertussis at Grand Traverse Academy, with more than 80 additional cases considered “probable.”

The school is closed, and all sports and extracurricular activities canceled, until Monday.

Sarah Cwiek / Michigan Radio

Having secured court approval for its bankruptcy restructuring last week, Detroit is now ready to emerge from bankruptcy.

But some Detroit residents and activists say that plan sacrificed both democracy and the public interest.

The group Detroiters Resisting Emergency Management says the bankruptcy process was about imposing financial solutions on social and political problems.

And they believe the newly-approved “plan of adjustment” won’t benefit the vast majority of Detroiters.

Sarah Cwiek / Michigan Radio

A prominent Palestinian-American activist faces up to ten years in prison and the loss of her US citizenship after being found guilty of immigration fraud.

Rasmea Odeh, 67, was convicted in a Detroit federal court Monday of gaining US naturalization and citizenship unlawfully.

Odeh was convicted by an Israeli military court of involvement in a 1969 Jerusalem bombing. She did not disclose that information on immigration papers, according to federal officials.

Part of the Diego Rivera mural in the DIA. Foundations pulled together to help save the art in the museum.
Joseph Gallegos / Flickr

It’s hard not be awed by the scale and detail in Diego Rivera’s Depression-era “Detroit industry” murals at the Detroit Institute of Arts, but these scenes depicting both the splendor and hardship of an industrial powerhouse were potentially at risk in the city’s bankruptcy.

That’s because right now, Detroit owns the museum and its world-class collection.

And that made Detroit’s creditors—collectively owed billions of dollars—ask: Why shouldn’t the city have to sell at least some of it to pay them?

Darren Walker, President of the Ford Foundation, says the idea was offensive.

“The idea that the art could actually be auctioned off was so … antithetical to our idea of democracy and the role of cultural organizations.”

But that fear actually turned out to be an important lever in the bankruptcy case.

via detroiteasternmarket.com

JPMorgan Chase is lending some of its people to development-boosting efforts in Detroit.

12 JP Morgan employees will spend much of this month working with non-profit groups in the city as part of the new Detroit Service Corps.

The volunteer effort is meant to complement the financial services company's five-year, $100 million investment in a number of Detroit projects, says Tasha Tabron of the JP Morgan Chase Foundation.

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President Obama told a Detroit crowd Saturday that Democrats can pull off some big victories in Michigan races this Tuesday – if there’s a “sense of urgency” about getting out the vote.

The president rallied an exuberant crowd of more than 6,000 on the Wayne State University campus.

He urged them to sustain that energy over the next three days, and use it to get fellow Democrats to the polls.      

Kenny Karpov / via Facebook

With just days to go before the election, the Michigan Governor’s race appears too close to call.

But one thing is for sure: if Democrat Mark Schauer is going to have a shot, voters in heavily-Democratic Detroit need to turn out.

Even though Michigan politics have changed a lot over the years, that one fact has stayed pretty much the same for Democrats in statewide races.

Sarah Cwiek / Michigan Radio

A Detroit developer who just bought a massive chunk of city land says he wants to help community groups revitalize their own neighborhoods.

Herb Strather bought a package of more than 6000 properties from the Wayne County tax foreclosure auction for just over $3 million.

That “blight bundle” was actually meant to discourage bidders from buying up huge numbers of cheap, distressed properties.

But Strather says the land was still at risk of going to “outside” investors, and he bid to prevent that.

Sarah Cwiek / Michigan Radio

The final round of the annual Wayne County property tax foreclosure auction closed on Tuesday.

This year, about 24,000 properties—the vast majority located in Detroit--were up for auction over two rounds.

The auction has become a real estate mega-event in recent years, as the number of tax-foreclosed properties has soared, and bidding moved online.

More than 7000 of the properties up for auction this year were believed to be occupied.

Detroit’s bankruptcy trial wrapped up Monday with closing arguments.

At issue: whether the city’s plan of adjustment to restructure its debt is “fair and equitable” to its various creditors, as required by Chapter 9 of the municipal bankruptcy code.

Judge Steven Rhodes must also decide if the plan is “feasible”—whether Detroit can balance its books and avoid slipping back into bankruptcy.

Bonham

The Henry Ford museum in Dearborn has acquired one of the world’s foremost digital artifacts: an Apple-1 computer.

As the first pre-assembled personal computer ever sold, the Apple-1 marked a key moment at the start of the digital age.

The Henry Ford got one of 50 hand-built in 1976 by Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak--in fellow co-founder Steve Jobs’s family garage.

Executive Vice President Christian Overland said the Henry Ford’s collection is all about new ideas and innovations--and the Apple-1 fits in perfectly.

Sarah Cwiek / Michigan Radio

Republican candidate for Congress David Trott was the subject of some street theater this week.

Trott is running for the U.S. House seat in Metro Detroit’s 11th district.

He’s also a former co-owner of the Trott & Trott law firm, which specializes in home foreclosure work on behalf of banks. It prospered during the recent housing crisis, foreclosing on up to 80,000 homes in 2009 alone.

City of Detroit

Detroit emergency manager Kevyn Orr took the stand again Tuesday in the 22nd day of the city’s bankruptcy trial.

Orr testified mostly about Detroit’s recent settlement with bond insurer Financial Guaranty Insurance Corporation. That deal is outlined in a draft of the ninth version of Detroit’s plan of adjustment (the city’s proposal to “adjust” its debts in bankruptcy court).

Detroit skyline
Ian Freimuth / flickr.com

Members of the United Nations Human Rights Commission heard testimony in Detroit this week from citizens who are struggling to secure affordable water and housing.

Nicole Hill is a Detroiter who has had her water shut off twice this year. Hill says the water department tells her she owes more than $6,000 — a number she vigorously disputes.

“I have asked for a hearing, and I was told that I could possibly get a hearing date sometime in 2015,” she said.

For Mignon Jennings, the cost of her water bill has put her in danger of losing her Detroit home.

“$3,000 for a water bill for one year? That’s ludicrous. That’s crazy. And I believe something needs to be done.”

The UN panel has criticized Detroit’s policy of cutting water service to people with delinquent bills.

Panel members issued recommendations on the situation Monday. They also met with Mayor Mike Duggan.

Duggan's chief of staff, Alexis Wiley, defended the administration's response to the water shutoffs, pointing out that the number of customers on payment plans has almost doubled to about 33,000 since Duggan announced his 10-point plan on dealing with them in August.

Wiley said the meeting was unproductive. "Unfortunately, it became clear shortly into the meeting that the UN representatives had reached their conclusions and prepared their recommendations before the meeting had even begun," she said in a statement, that also accused the UN of singling out Detroit for criticism of a "standard practice among utilities."

Environmental groups say a proposal from within state government to weaken Michigan’s toxic air pollutant guidelines would put public health at risk.

Michigan has some of the strictest guidelines in the nation when it comes to toxic air chemicals. It’s one of just nine states to regulate all potentially toxic emissions.

Detroit City Council member Saunteel Jenkins is resigning.

Jenkins was first elected to Council in 2009. She was re-elected in 2013 as one of two at-large members on a now mostly district-based Council.

Jenkins finished her first term serving as Council President, after Charles Pugh abandoned the post. She sought the post again this term, but lost a close internal vote to current President Brenda Jones.

Wikipedia

Detroit has reached a settlement with its last major holdout creditor in bankruptcy court.

Bond insurer Financial Guaranty Insurance Corporation holds $1.1 billion in Detroit debt. It insured a bad deal on city pension debt whose legality has been questioned.

FGIC had been the city’s last big foe in bankruptcy court. By signing onto the plan of adjustment Detroit has proposed to restructure its debts, it’s removed another hurdle slowing down the city’s exit from bankruptcy.

After a week-long recess, Detroit’s bankruptcy trial resumed Tuesday.

City lawyers spent more than two weeks making their case for Detroit’s proposed plan of adjustment to restructure its debts in bankruptcy. They rested last week.

Now, objecting creditors get their chance to argue that plan doesn’t meet the requirements of the municipal bankruptcy code.

Laura Bartell, a professor of bankruptcy law at Wayne State University, said the trial has gone “swimmingly” for the city so far.

After years of delays caused by political infighting and real estate disputes, the Troy Transit Center is finally open for business.

The $6.3 million center will serve primarily as a much-improved Oakland County stop for Amtrak’s popular Wolverine Line.

That line, which connects Pontiac and Chicago, serves 500,000 riders annually. According to Amtrak, about 20,000 of them get on or off at the Troy stop.

Detroit residents met Monday night for a discussion on how to move forward after the elimination of Citizens District Councils (CDCs).

CDCs have been around since the Blighted Area Rehabilitation Act of 1945 granted Michigan cities the right to acquire blighted properties using the power of eminent domain.

First Lady Michelle Obama headlined a campaign event for Michigan Democrats in Detroit Friday.

The First Lady got a warm, energetic reception from the crowd at the Detroit Music Hall.

She encouraged them to sustain that energy right through election day.

Mrs. Obama praised the Democrats running at the top of the ticket: Mark Schauer for Governor, and Gary Peters for US Senate.  

She told the crowd that Democrats fare better when voter turnout is high—and it’s especially important in Detroit.

The Detroit City Council is considering an ordinance to ensure “community benefits” come with future large development projects—but it’s drawing some fierce pushback.

The so-called “urban development agreement” has been in the works for more than a year.

It would make sure large-scale developments offer some guaranteed benefits (like jobs for local residents and city-based contractors) and protections (like safeguards for displaced residents and the environment) to host communities.

A jury is deciding whether a Detroit police officer is guilty of a misdemeanor for causing the death of a little girl in 2010.

No one disputes that Office Joseph Weekley shot and killed Aiyana Jones when police raided her family’s home looking for a murder suspect.

He is charged with careless, reckless discharge of a firearm, causing death.

The question is whether Weekley failed to exercise “ordinary care” when he fired the shot that killed Jones.

Prosecutors argue he was negligent because he didn’t follow his extensive weapons training.

The city of Detroit wrapped up its case in bankruptcy court today, with Detroit’s two top elected officials as the final witnesses.

Mayor Mike Duggan and City Council President Brenda Jones both took the stand.

Their testimony is key, because the city needs to convince Judge Steven Rhodes that its proposed plan of adjustment is feasible—and that city leaders will work together to execute it post-bankruptcy.

Jones had publicly opposed emergency manager Kevyn Orr, and his decision to file for bankruptcy.

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