July 20, 2014 at 1:00 am


Editorial: Auction helps Detroit shed properties

City Hall picks solid strategy to sell homes, vacant lots

The city's effort to auction off homes has gone better than expected. (Daniel Mears / The Detroit News)

Mayor Mike Duggan made reversing the tide of Detroit’s waning population a selling point in his mayoral campaign. He seems to have come up with the right strategy to begin reaching that goal.

The only way to grow Detroit — a prediction this week from the U.S. Census Bureau states the city will have just 610,000 residents by 2025 — is to get more people to move into the city by ridding it of blight and filling up redeemable homes that have been abandoned.

The city launched a campaign earlier this year to sell off the abandoned homes it owns.

The “Neighbors Wanted” campaign has sold about 70 homes, reaping more than $1 million so far from property that otherwise would have likely become worthless.

The Land Bank Authority has been auctioning off an average of two homes per day. The authority says it has a steady stream of potential buyers considering every auctioned property, especially those available on weekends.

“It’s getting people back into the neighborhoods,” said Mose Primus Jr., who registers visitors for the Land Bank.

The Mayor’s Office also announced the city is selling some vacant lots adjacent to occupied homes for $100.

There are 4,700 vacant lots, and nearly 2,000 of them now belong to homeowners next door.

These solutions are smart.

They bring in revenue for the city, both from the sale and in future taxes, while transferring the commitment of land ownership from government to private residents.

Selling off government land to individuals motivated enough to move into the city is the quickest way to revitalize Detroit’s blighted neighborhoods.

Duggan has also launched a program to seize drug houses throughout the city. Homeowners will be notified their house was raided, and that if raided again, it will be taken by the city.

While this certainly falls into a gray area of government’s right to seize private property, drug dens are haunting Detroit.

A coordinated effort by the city might finally make a dent in cleaning them up.

Of course, there are still challenges in getting these programs running smoothly.

It’s unclear how many of the auctioned homes have actually been closed on.

People who bid on the auctioned homes have between 60 and 90 days to pay in full, and between six and nine months to occupy the homes and bring them up to code.

It will be noteworthy if all bidders are able to play by the rules.

Additionally, some of the homes being auctioned are complete disasters.

A row of townhouses recently available in southwest Detroit were uninhabitable, and it will be no small challenge to bring them up to a plethora of building codes.

On one home recently, no one submitted a bid.

The city had no protocol for how to deal with that situation.

And no matter what these individuals do with the new homes, they still rely on city services that remain substandard.

But if the city can successfully sell the houses it owns, along with vacant lots, it will have extra revenue on hand, and new residents who call Detroit home.