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Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Dealing with Detroit's Debt


I've never seen the momentum, buzz, interest, investment, and other indicators around Detroit as good as they are now. It is too bad that the actual City itself has never been in worse shape.

Detroit's financial woes haven't been real news for years, but it finally looks like it is time to pay the piper. Gridlock between the Mayor, the City Council, the City Attorney, and the State, as well as the elimination of the Emergency Financial Manager option, make bankruptcy an extremely likely outcome. As an extreme case, some folks are already suggesting to dissolve the City and merge it with Wayne County, or (even worse in my book) liquidate the DIA's (City-owned) priceless art collection.

We can hope that our elected officials and public servants sort this out, but I'm not optimistic. Unfortunately, there is not much ordinary citizens can really do at this point to stop the slow moving train wreck. However, there is one trick that it might be interesting for some of us to pursue.

On the way to Operation HOPE's Global Financial Dignity Summit last month in Atlanta, I read about one of the Occupy movement's new focus areas – debt. One tactic they are pursuing is to purchase outstanding loans of bankrupt folks (that typically trade for pennies on the dollar) and then forgiving them. I'm not sure what Detroit's bonds trade for, but I imagine they are deep in junk territory and severely discounted. Perhaps this could be a solution for Detroit as well. If the Detroit's citizens can buy and retire $1 billion (in face value) of debt/bonds for ~$50 million (I'm not sure what they are trading at, but even $500 million would be a deal, if offset by future tax credits), well that's a good deal in my book. Maybe the City could even reward Citizens who help it out through such a gift (e.g., by reducing property taxes for a certain period, or giving out lifetime free parking passes in the City)

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