July 12, 2014 at 1:00 am

Detroiters fight to stay in homes they say they own, but developer is trying to sell

Saving their homes
Saving their homes: Families in the Gratiot McDougall Homes project claim the developer Peter Barclae deceived them when he had them sign rent-to-own contracts for their homes and is now trying to sell their properties to a Singapore company.

Detroit— One day, residents in the Gratiot McDougall Homes project near Eastern Market were living their lives. The next, they discovered the homes they believed they owned were up for sale by a Singapore investment company.

“We all had the same facial expression at that time, like ‘I can’t believe it,’ ” said homeowner Keith Bates, who says he has paid $40,000 toward his home. “Something went wrong.”

Oakland County developer Peter Barclae is the man responsible for the 20-unit low-income housing project built in 2006, which the residents say was always intended to allow them to rent-to-own their homes. They say contracts were signed, promises made and thousands of dollars paid to Barclae under the assumption that once Barclae secured Housing and Urban Development grants and fulfilled commitments to the city of Detroit, they would receive the deeds.

“I grew up in that neighborhood, I went to elementary school there,” said homeowner Sheree Bass, who said she has paid $61,000 to Barclae over six years. “When I found out I could get a new home where I grew up, I was excited.”

Instead, homeowners say they’ve faced multiple eviction attempts, a lingering court case in Third District Court and the shock of seeing their homes listed for sale on a foreign company’s website.

“The agent told me there was an open house,” Bass said. “That’s how I found out.”

Barclae’s lawyer Allen Dyer tells a different story.

Dyer says the residents are considered tenants, and the rent money “just barely covered insurance, taxes and debt service, therefore, there was never any agreement for the rent to apply to the purchase price.”

Instead, he says, the tenants were required to get a mortgage as part of the agreement, which they failed to do. According to Barclae’s company’s website, the homes are 1,500-square-foot, 3-bedroom, 2.5-bath units.

“Most of the plaintiffs owe approximately two years’ back rent and have refused to pay rent or any other costs associated with their housing expenses, including but not limited to taxes, insurance and water bills,” Dyer said in an email. He said each house cost $180,000 to build, which amounts to $3.6 million for all of the units.

Last month, the residents protested outside the offices of Midas Development Corp., which had listed their homes for sale to prospective investors in Asia. The company agreed to take the homes off its site.

On Friday, residents and supporters protested outside the parking lot at the St. Regis Hotel near Woodward and West Grand Boulevard, another property owned by Barclae. They had planned to deliver an accounting of money owed to the residents based on equity put into the homes, rent paid and emotional stress. But a sign at the lot said it was closed down “due to protest.”

“We take care of the property, we patrol the neighborhood, we take care of that neighborhood and for us to be gone would devastate that community,” said homeowner Anntionette Talley, who says she has paid about $40,000 so far.

“We want our homes. We just want what was promised to us.”

(313) 222-2127

Anntionette Talley of Detroit protests a developer's evictions Friday: 'We just want what was promised to us.' / Max Ortiz / The Detroit News