The Program in Law and Public Affairs (LAPA)’s seminar format encourages attendees to familiarize themselves with the paper in advance. The author will open the session by summarizing the main themes in the paper and presenting some topics for discussion. Moderated Q&A follows.
Copies of the seminar paper are typically available about 10 days before the event, during regular business hours, at the LAPA Offices on the 3rd floor of Wallace Hall.
From Professor Atuahene: Between 2011 and 2015, the Wayne County treasurer completed the property tax foreclosure process for 1 in 4 properties in Detroit, Michigan. No American city has experienced this elevated rate of property tax foreclosures since the Great Depression. Studies reveal that the City of Detroit systematically and illegally inflated the assessed value of most of its residential properties, which led to inflated property tax bills that many homeowners could not afford to pay. Extraordinary tax foreclosure rates and extensive dispossession resulted. Consequently, Detroit has become a “predatory city”—a new and important socio-legal concept that this Article develops.
Predatory cities are urban areas where public officials systematically take property from residents and transfer it to public coffers, intentionally or unintentionally violating domestic laws or basic human rights. This Article is the first attempt to understand the intersecting economic, social, and political factors that have caused these struggling cities to become predatory. Through an ethnographic study of illegal property tax assessments in Detroit, I find that predatory systems, in particular legal and governance failures, rather than predatory people initiated and perpetuated the illicit practices. This Article identifies, defines, and examines the phenomenon of predatory cities, which scholars and policy makers must begin to better understand and address.
Bernadette Atuahene is a law professor at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law and a Research Professor at the American Bar Foundation. She has worked as a consultant for the World Bank and the South African Land Claims Commission, and has also directed and produced an award-winning short documentary film about one South African family’s struggle to regain their land. She has been honored with the Fulbright Fellowship, Council on Foreign Relation’s International Affairs Fellowship, and Princeton’s Law and Public Affairs Fellowship. Atuahene has written extensively about land dispossession. Her first book, We Want What’s Ours: Learning from South Africa’s Land Restitution Program (Oxford University Press, 2014), is based on 150 interviews she conducted with South Africans dispossessed of their land by the colonial and apartheid governments and who received some form of compensation post-apartheid. In 2015, she won a National Science Foundation Grant for her new book project about land and housing in Detroit. Atuahene earned her JD from Yale Law School and her MPA from Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government. After graduating, she served as a judicial clerk at the Constitutional Court of South Africa, and then practiced as an associate at Cleary, Gottlieb, Steen & Hamilton in New York.
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