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50 more Detroit families get to keep their homes with buy-back program

Sarah Cwiek
Michigan Radio

Another 50 Detroit families will own the homes they currently live in, thanks to a city program.

The Detroit Land Bank Authority’s occupied buy-back program allows some people living in land bank-owned homes to buy those homes for a $1,000 down payment and some additional savings toward future property taxes, after completing some required classes.

Many in the program are former homeowners who lost their homes to property tax foreclosure. Others meet the land bank’s criteria of having “some connection” to the property: renters at the time the home went into foreclosure, relatives of the former homeowner, or those who have paid a year’s worth of utility bills or made significant improvements to the property.

Michael McGee has lived in the home he now owns for two and a half years. He got the home through word of mouth from friends of a family friend, who lost it to foreclosure.

“So I took it over. The buyback program worked for me very well,” McGee said.

He said owning the home “takes a lot of stress off. Four kids, we finally got a stable roof over our heads. It feels great. Feels wonderful.”

Aziza Alexander also has four kids. She bought her home in 2011, but lost it to tax foreclosure after a combination of disabilities and illness after her mother’s death left her unable to make payments.

“It was really, truly a blessing,” Alexander said of the buy-back program, which took her nearly two years to complete. “The hard work … it’s paying off. I can keep my home, and I can keep my children with a roof over their head.”

Alexander both laughed and cried when she talked about actually getting the deed back.

It’s going to be real, real waterworks,” she said. “Because it means … I got something. I have a little something. It ain’t much, but I got it. It’s mine.”

Detroit Land Bank Executive Director Saskia Thompson says about 320 people have completed the program so far, hundreds more are currently enrolled, and “we’re willing to take more every day.”

The land bank estimates around 3,500 of its inventory of more than 25,000 homes are occupied. Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan has set a goal of relieving the land bank of that entire inventory one way or another in the next five years, freeing it up to manage its even vaster inventory of Detroit’s vacant land.

Thompson calls that goal “aggressive,” but thinks it’s achievable.

“The combo of demolishing the homes that can’t be renovated, selling the homes that can, and our occupy program to make sure that people who find themselves in an occupied home have the opportunity to purchase it … with all of that layered strategy, we do think we can manage the goal of becoming structure-free in the next five years,” Thompson said.

Sarah Cwiek joined Michigan Public 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.
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