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When Bobby Cook Jr. shook Mayor Mike Duggan's hand and received the deed to his home, he said it felt like winning the Stanley Cup. 

Cook was one of 112 participants who received their deeds at the Detroit Land Bank Authority's Third Annual Buy Back Exit event on Thursday.

"It felt like the Red Wings winning the Stanley Cup or the Lions going to the playoffs," he said.

The ceremony, held at the Northwest Activities Center, celebrated participants who exited the Land Bank's Buy Back Program. The program offers a path to home ownership for individuals who live in a Land Bank-owned home while decreasing the number of vacant homes in Detroit.

"I want the Land Bank to be homeless, and I want the homes to go to people in the city," Mayor Mike Duggan said at Thursday's event. 

After returning from a trip to Germany to help family members last year, Cook found the home he rented vandalized, with pipes missing. Now, Cook, who is the lead pharmacy technician at Children's Hospital of Michigan, said he and his two young puppies love the backyard at his home.

"The Land Bank supported me the whole time," Cook said. "If I had a question, they'd answer." 

Since the program began in 2016, it has helped 462 Detroiters receive property deeds.

Those occupying homes owned by the Land Bank are eligible for the program, given they meet one of seven other criteria, which include proving they are the most recent owner of the property, a former renter of the property, or they paid 12 consecutive months of utilities for the home.

Alyssa Strickland, a Land Bank spokeswoman, said she encourages those living in Land Bank-owned homes to come forward to see if they qualify for the program.

"It's important that people call and ask for help," Strickland said. "The idea is not to push you out of the house or evict you or get you in any legal trouble." 

Once in the program, the Land Bank assesses properties with a 78-point inspection to ensure the home is in a livable condition. The Land Bank then connects participants with local nonprofits, including Central Detroit Christian, National Faith HomeBuyers, Southwest Solutions, Wayne Metro, and U SNAP BAC.

These groups provide participants with courses in home repair and renovation, plus financial literacy and saving.  The program also requires participants to complete a financial assessment with a counselor. 

Participants purchase their homes with a $1,000 down payment and are required to put $100 each month in a savings account to eventually pay property taxes. The Land Bank retains a reverter on the property until the individual meets all conditions and requirements of the course.

At the end of the program, participants receive their deed and the money they saved in the form of check to pay their first property taxes. 

Any extra savings go into the homeowner's pocket, said Reginald B. Scott II, director of dispositions for the Land Bank. 

Tiffany Peterson, the mother of 3-year-old twins, also received her deed on Thursday. Peterson said the program connected her to local organizations who provided her family with home furnishings, like a refrigerator and children's beds, as well as a thermostat and fire alarm. 

"You can't get complacent. You have to stay positive and have hope," Peterson said. "It was hard, but God have me a vision and I kept going."  

Peterson, who works for UPS, is studying toward her GED and hopes to go to college to study engineering. 

The Detroit Land Bank Authority is the largest land bank in the country, Strickland said, and can therefore take a "people-first approach" to its work.

Scott said the program is "mission-driven." 

"It allows people to have home ownership and provides stability for the homeowner and the community," Scott said. 

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