Detroit-based educators to get housing breaks

Candice Williams
The Detroit News

Mayor Mike Duggan and the Detroit Land Bank announced Friday a plan to give educators teaching in Detroit a 50 percent discount on homes purchased through the housing auction program.

Other employees and full-time contractors working in public, private and charter schools in the city are also eligible, officials said.

The program is an expansion of one launched in January 2015 for city employees, retirees and their families. Since that time, about 240 families have taken advantage of the program, Duggan said during a news conference Friday on the lawn of a retired Detroit firefighter who purchased a home through the program.

“In addition to police, firefighter and city employees we want to bring our educators back into this city,” Duggan said.

About half of Detroit Public Schools Community District’s 6,000 employees live in the city, said Terrence Martin, executive vice president of the Detroit Federation of Teachers.

Nikolai Vitti, superintendent of the DPSCD, said the program will help fill the vacancy gap in the schools.

“This allows us to go back to an age when our teachers were directly linked to our schools in the community which builds a better relationship with our students,” he said. “Right now there’s just too much disconnect between our students, at times, our principals and our teachers because not enough of our teachers are living in the city of Detroit.

“We need to go back to the days when our teachers are with our students consistently throughout the educational process and that will happen more if they live in the city themselves.”

Clark Durant, co-founder of Cornerstone Schools, said the program will help attract teachers and fill shortages in its private schools and charter schools. He said the human resources department plans to send a notice to teachers and will also include information in recruiting materials.

The announcement was made on the lawn of Frank and Tamiko Polk who won at auction their 1939 two-story brick home on Fullerton in the Russell Woods neighborhood. Frank Polk is a retired Detroit fighter so the couple were able to purchase the property in 2016 for 50 percent off their winning bid. They renovated the house and were featured on PBS’s “This Old House” earlier this year.

“It’s worked extraordinarily well for my wife and I,” Frank Polk said. “A year and a half ago we were contemplating moving out of the state and just picking up our roots and going in another direction. We came to learn about the land bank program and the opportunity that it presented for us at a 50-percent discount. Even without the discount I think it’s a great program. We decided to stay and it’s one of the best decision that we’ve made.”

School employees interested in the program can sign up and await verification, Duggan said. After that, they can bid whenever they want. Bidding starts at $1,000.

News of the program came about two and half weeks before the city’s Aug. 8 primary, in which Duggan faces numerous challengers.

“You can watch three houses a day being auctioned,” he said. “It might be six weeks from now or three months from now you see the perfect house for you. When it is, you bid. If you are the winning bidder and get that house you get 50 percent off.”

Winning bidders are required to rehabilitate the homes within six months and own them for three years. If sold before that time period, owners will be required to repay some of the sale profits to the city.

Detroit City Councilman Gabe Leland, who represents District 7, said the purchase of these land bank properties will get them back on the tax rolls.

“I want to tell the teachers in Detroit, whether it’s DPSCD, parochial, charter, we want to wrap our arms around you...” Leland said. “If you want to make that investment in our neighborhoods you have that opportunity under this new program.”

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