To stabilize its housing market, Detroit city officials are on a mission to clear tens of thousands of abandoned, dilapidated houses – remnants of the foreclosure crisis – throughout its city, but squatters are preventing them from bulldozing the homes.
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Detroit does not allow occupied properties to be demolished. As such, when a squatter is present, police must be sent to remove any squatters who won’t leave homes voluntarily. Often, the process can take weeks or months to get the squatters from the properties, delaying bulldozing projects and proving costly for crews.
A survey last year found that more than 40,000 structures in Detroit needed to be torn down, and another 38,000 were flagged with indications of blight and for future demolition. The city wants to combat blight that has overtaken some city neighborhoods, which has caused home values to suffer and crime, in some cases, to enter in. Detroit officials also want to rid the city of its excess home inventory, since the city is about a third of its size since its 1950s peak.
However, for Detroit’s about 16,000 homeless people, the homes earmarked for demolition are quickly becoming home to the homeless.
Michele McCray, 58, told the Associated Press that she’s homeless and will pick vacant homes to live in. She views squatting as a community service.
"You look for one that's decent, already fixed up," McCray told the Associated Press. "The first thing you do is cut the grass ... because the neighbors want to know who you are and what's going on over here. You have to maintain the property. Paint the place up, keep it looking good." It’s also a roof above her head, even though the homes’ lack utilities.
Tiffany Tilley, a real estate sales associate in the Detroit area, estimates about 20 to 30 percent of the more than 100 properties she shows has had signs of squatters. She says the prevalence of squatters throughout the city are making the homes much more difficult to show and sell.
Craig Fahle, a spokesman for the Detroit Land Bank Authority, says the city will not stop its fight against blight, despite squatters postponing bulldozing crews.
"Illegal occupancy is an issue, but there is plenty of work to do with homes that are not occupied," Fahle says.