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Detroit fights blight by selling off vacant homes

Published on NewsOK Modified: June 15, 2014 at 2:30 pm •  Published: June 15, 2014

On Friday, the high-bid for a 1,200-square-foot brick bungalow in the eastside neighborhood was $14,100. The house has a fireplace, three bedrooms and a good roof, but the auction website notes that it's a fixer-upper: Both bathrooms and the kitchen will need replacing, as will the doors, windows, plumbing and HVAC system.

Talmer Bank has committed $1 million to a program in which homeowners get $25,000 forgivable loans when they buy homes at auction. The loans will be forgiven at the rate of $5,000 for each year the buyer lives in the house.

Duggan's plan includes legally taking empty houses from owners who fail or refuse to keep them up. Some will be torn down and others will be sold. Detroit doesn't want to be a landlord, but the mayor said allowing houses and neighborhoods to rot is no longer an option.

"We sue on a nuisance theory that when you abandon your house it is a nuisance to your neighbors, and you have to either fix up the nuisance yourself or lose the house," Duggan said.

Detroit has filed lawsuits against at least 125 people so far this spring.

The program is modeled after one he created a decade ago during his time as Wayne County prosecutor. And as far as Duggan knows, no other U.S. city is doing what Detroit is doing.

Notices are posted on the vacant houses, and there is a response and appeals period. Some owners choose consent judgments and vow to fix the houses up and move somebody in, but some don't.

On June 6, a judge awarded the Land Bank eight vacant properties in the Marygrove neighborhood.

"I'm going to guess that of those eight, we're going to demolish two and auction six," Duggan said. "We're rolling across the city an entire neighborhood at a time and filing these lawsuits. Everybody knows they got a choice — sign the court order and get it fixed up yourself or we'll auction it on the website. If we take title to it and we can't sell it, we'll demo it. If we got a couple of burned out houses we'll take title (and) demo the burned out houses."

That's not just political rambling, said Brown, who has seen Duggan looking over vacant houses on Wisconsin Street.

Like Duggan, Brown would rather they be saved.

"Who wants a vacant lot by their house?" Brown said. "Recycle. That's what Duggan is doing. He has a nice plan. He's doing better than all these other sorry mayors we've had."