As Michigan Makes Progress on Vacant Homes, Detroit’s Vacancies Have Skyrocketed

Detroiters will vote on a bond measure to fund demolishing or salvaging 16,000 vacant homes.

An abandoned house in Detroit (AP Photo/Corey R. Williams)

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Michigan has made progress on addressing vacant, abandoned homes in the state, but Detroit — despite ambitious efforts — has seen the number of vacant homes in the city increase, according to a new report from the Center for Community Progress.

According to the report, the number of vacant homes in Michigan dropped four percent to 380,719 as the population increased slightly, by .07 percent, from 2010 to 2018. But in Detroit, vacancies increased 29.5 percent; the city now has 102,330 vacant housing units, or 28 percent of the city’s total housing stock.

The report adds that the highest vacancy rates are in counties that have the highest population of Black residents. The state’s mostly rural Upper Peninsula is also seeing high vacancy rates.

According to the report, roughly 20 percent of homeowners and more than 45 percent of renters across the state are cost-burdened. Putting abandoned homes back into use could ease the state’s housing shortage.

Detroit’s Land Bank Authority is responsible for maintaining, demolishing or selling many of the vacant houses across the city. According to the Detroit News, the Land Bank is the largest property owner in the city and has the largest inventory of any land bank nationwide. But funding challenges have made it hard for the Land Bank to operate with efficiency and timeliness. The land bank had received $265 million in federal Hardest Hit Fund dollars to raze homes, but that money ran out this month, the Detroit News reported.

Many residents are frustrated with the pace at which the Land Bank moves, however. Jackie Smith has been living next to a vacant home owned by the Detroit Land Bank Authority for more than a decade, the Detroit News reported. During that time, Smith has seen roof shingles and lead fall into her yard from the vacant home. Smith would like the house demolished, but the land bank has told her that there’s not much they can do without funding.

According to the Detroit News, the land bank has paid more than $3 million to mow the lawns of the vacant homes and board up the empty houses, but some residents would argue it is not enough.

Detroiters living next to these vacant homes are feeling frustration as they pick up the slack. Homeowners, including Craig Browning, mow lawns and board up houses at their own expense, because, they say, nobody else is.

Browning is the last resident on his block in Detroit’s Brightmoor neighborhood. The land bank owns every other property, including both houses and land.

“My last breath, I’ll be doing yard work,” Browning told the Detroit News. “I want it to look good.”

In a press conference on August 26, Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan announced that the land bank would shift its focus to “how we take this property and move it from city ownership into ownership of the people who live in these neighborhoods”.

Last month, according to the Detroit Free Press, Duggan introduced Proposal N, a $250 million bond initiative that would pay to demolish or salvage 16,000 vacant homes.

“This will transform the quality of life in the neighborhoods in this city if we secure 8,000 houses and move families in and get rid of the 8,000 burned-out houses that can’t be saved,” Duggan said during a press conference, as reported by the Detroit News, “We believe all of this is possible and we’re going to put people to work.”

Detroiters will vote on the proposal in November.

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Eddi is an Emma Bowen Foundation Fellow with Next City for summer 2020. He is a recent college graduate of Delaware State University where he majored in Mass Communications and Digital Media. 

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Tags: detroitmichigan

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