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Detroit’s Blight Fight: The city unveils new plans for neighborhood renovation

Since filing for bankruptcy last July, Detroit has struggled to ameliorate its housing crisis. A grand total of more than $18 billion of debt made Detroit’s default the largest municipal bankruptcy in United States history. This financial failure, compounded by the mortgage mess, has left thousands of homes vacant. Currently, the city owns 16,000 vacant, foreclosed homes, and Detroit has struggled to find solutions for these thousands of homes. Demolition has been the go-to means of ‘handling’ the problem… until now. The city has unveiled a new eBay-like website where prospective homeowners can bid on homes. BuildingDetroit.org will serve as an auction clearinghouse for fixer-uppers, and bids start at $1000. “We’re laying another huge piece in place in Detroit’s strategy to fight blight,” said Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan. “It is not enough to just demolish.” The Building Detroit organization website will launch with 15 houses, 12 of them in the East English Village neighborhood. The city will stage open houses, allowing buyers to look before they bid. Starting in early May, one house will go live for bidding each day, between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. If successful, more houses will be added to the auction list. The fight against blight is on. Auction House Rules Other auctions have taken place in Detroit before, such as Wayne County’s mass house auction. Many homes sold at such auctions, however, have continued to add to the ugly face of blight, as their negligent owners leave them in a sorry state of disrepair and vacancy, never paying taxes on them. Detroit, keen to this problem, has set forth strict rules for all customers buying from the Building Detroit Organization. Within three days, buyers must provide a 10 percent down payment of the final price. If the purchase price of the home is less than $20,000, full payment or proof of mortgage is required within 60 days; if more than $20,000, the buyer has 90 days to furnish cash or a payment plan. Buyers’ legal records will be closely examined before any deals are made. “This is not for the kind of speculators we’ve seen in the past,” Duggan explained. “This is only for people who are serious about fixing up the house and being good neighbors.” Combating Crisis Part of the funds from BuildingDetroit.org will go toward a program to target neighborhoods for blight elimination. The Marygrave neighborhood, thriving before 2008, is now one such target. Duggan announced the city will begin to file lawsuits against more than 80 property owners who have failed to demonstrate plans to renovate or reoccupy these houses. Auctions on the Marygrave homes could begin this June. The Building Detroit Organization hopes to expand its market of homes for sale by scouting the city’s many empty neighborhoods. Duggan announced that the city will be posting legal notices on vacant houses, and taking court action if necessary against owners of such blighted homes. A blight removal task force will be working around the clock to survey an estimated 380,000 vacant properties and parcels in the city. The properties not demolished are likely to end up on BuildingDetroit.org if they fit reasonable criteria. Detroit’s Decline and Hopeful Future Detroit faces an unprecedented multilevel crisis. From a shrinking police department to an evaporating job market, the city is overwhelmed by challenges. Yet The Building Detroit Organization offers hope as a progressive step toward necessary repopulation. If the Building Detroit program proves successful, new homeowners will contribute to a much-needed citywide face-lift. “People have walked away from great homes in their neighborhood because they thought their block had no future,” said Brenda Jones, Detroit City Council president. With the help of some proactive new homeowners, the city is working to turn that future around for the better.

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