Dispute over $12.5M grant in northern Michigan leads to 4 resignations, removal of director

Scam gets hundreds gathered in Detroit for free house

Charles E. Ramirez
The Detroit News
Hundreds attended a petition drive held at the Coleman A. Young Municipal Center organized by Detroit Free Housing Porgram.

Detroit — Hundreds turned out in the heat Wednesday at the Coleman A. Young Municipal Center in downtown Detroit for a shot at winning a free home —but the event turned out to be a scam.

A group calling itself the Detroit Free Housing Program promised people who showed up a free house in exchange for signing a petition calling for an independent government.

The group tweeted out a message that said "Detroit is giving away a free house."

However, city officials said Wednesday the event is not legitimate.

"ATTENTION DETROITERS: The “Detroit Free Housing Program” Fair that is allegedly scheduled for Wednesday, July 4 at the Coleman A. Young Municipal Center, is NOT a legitimate city event/program," officials said in a tweet. "Please refrain from giving your personal information to unverified sources."

They also issued a statement that said: “This event was denied permitting by the office of special events and Detroit Police Department. Residents were notified that the event was not sanctioned and advised not (to) attend through city social media platforms. Additionally, (police were) dispatched and on site to ensure the event did not take place and will discuss with media the measure they are going to take."

Detroit police officials said the man who organized the event was identified as Ramzu Yunus. Yunus is a nationally known leader in the African-American sovereign movement whose members partly denounce their American citizenship and do not adhere to paying taxes.

Yunus did not have a permit for the event Wednesday and was given a citation by officers, police said.

They also said no one had been arrested at the event.

Detroit City Council President Pro Tem Mary Sheffield said she wasn't surprised hundreds showed up at the city-county building Wednesday.

"You're talking about housing, which is a critical issue, especially decent, quality and affordable housing, in the city," Sheffield said. 

She said Yunus has a right to organize events, to assemble people and to protest, but the city acted properly by denying the organizers a permit. 

"It's unfortunate whoever organized the event led people on with the belief they will receive a home," she said. "Housing is a sensitive topic for many people."

Sheffield said would direct her staff after the Fourth of July holiday to investigate the matter further to see how to avoid a repeat of the event.

Organizers of the event declined to speak to The Detroit News.

On the group's Facebook page, it said: "We are organizing to take independent political control of the city with a new policy to give ALL OF THESE (vacant) HOMES to those in need. ALL WE NEED IS FOR A DEMOCRATIC MAJORITY OF THE PEOPLE TO STAND UP! July 4, 2018 at Detroit City Hall, we are holding a rally and referendum/vote for Black Independent political control that will immediately eliminate homelessness. BE THERE! Visit www.detroitfreehomes.info for more information and to apply for a home today!"

Virginia Thomas, 55, of Detroit, was among the hundreds who was lined up in front of the Spirit of Detroit statue to sign the petition in hopes of getting a house. She said she heard about the event through a text message.

"I'm renting a one-bedroom right now," she said. "My grandson's mother passed away and I would really like a home with three bedrooms where he, my son and I can live. That's my dream."

A crowd of people expecting to be given a free house wait in line outside the Coleman A. Young Municipal Building in Detroit on July 4. The city announced it was a scam and told people not to give over any information to organizers.

Two years ago, a similar event organized by Yunus and offering a free house and cash as part of Black Independence Day, stirred up controversy in Highland Park. 

Yunus was arrested at that event after about 300 people showed up at Highland Park City Hall, became unruly and clashed with police.


Twitter: @CharlesERamirez