Detroit puts first batch of houses stabilized with bond funds up for auction

James David Dickson
The Detroit News

Detroit — The Detroit Land Bank Authority this week put the first batch of vacant homes stabilized with voter-approved bond funding up for auction.

The $250 million bond, coined Proposal N, as in neighborhoods, was championed by Mayor Mike Duggan as necessary in stabilizing Detroit's housing stock, by tearing down a proposed 8,000 homes and securing and auctioning off another 8,000.

Two of the homes are listed for auction daily. One of the homes that went up Friday was 8965 Milner, north of Interstate 94 and east of Gratiot on the city's east side.

8965 Milner, on Detroit's east side, is among the first batch of homes stabilized and up for auction under the city's voter-approved $250 million bond program.

Minimum bids are $1,000, and by afternoon the high bid was about $3,200.

Land bank officials on Friday noted that closer to 3,000 homes will be in the pipeline by the end of the year to be secured and sold under the bond effort, since thousands of others sold prior to the November passage of the plan. 

So far, about 2,600 vacant homes adjacent to occupied homes have been identified for or are undergoing stabilization and 370 others have been razed under the demolition side of the bond program. Another 1,300 blighted houses are in "current, active demolition" and another 2,000 have been approved by Detroit City Council, said LaJuan Counts, Detroit's demolition director.

A divided Detroit City Council voted 5-4 in July 2020 to put the controversial measure before voters, under which the city has committed to goals of awarding more than half of all contracts associated with the work to Detroit companies and giving residents first dibs on salvaged homes. The bond funds have to be spent within three years.

The land bank property on Milner was the only vacant home there still standing.

Jerrell Dorsey, 66, took a break from mowing the large, fenced-in backyard next door to the land bank house to talk about how the neighborhood has changed over the years.

Two decades ago, when Dorsey started mowing lawns on Milner, both sides of the street were lined with homes, he said. 

Pressing his face against the chain-link fence, Dorsey pointed to sites where homes once stood. He counted five homes on the even-numbered side of the block that were demolished and a sixth that is headed that way.

"They let them go vacant, and then people vandalize them," Dorsey said. "Then the only thing left to do is to tear them down."

Saskia Thompson, the land bank's executive director, said Friday that officials originally planned to secure and stabilize 8,000 vacant properties for sale. 

But high demand has changed things. Some buyers are so eager to get their hands on properties that some of that inventory has already been sold, Thompson said.

"That's the level of investment that people are willing to make right now that they weren't a few years ago," she said. "And so we're turning those houses as quickly as we can."

Strickland noted the land bank is selling off about 300 homes per month. 

Saskia Thompson, executive director of the Detroit Land Bank Authority, talks about how Proposal N funds allowed the land bank to clean and prepare 8965 Milner for auction.

Once a home has been identified as a stabilization candidate, it is cleaned at an expense of about $4,000, Counts said. 

Over the last three weeks, rather than board up homes with plywood, as was long the case in Detroit, crews are covering doors and windows with a transparent material called polycarbonate. The material costs about $1,000 per property, compared with $400 per house for plywood.

Depending on the size of the lot and the cleaning need, stabilizations can be even more costly than that.

Plywood was "effective initially" in covering vacant homes, Counts said. But it also was also easy for vandals to pull up, and often had to be replaced.

"This material is a lot stronger," said Counts, adding polycarbonate allows natural light into the home, and offers a better aesthetic. 

"It almost looks like windows if you're just riding by, as opposed to looking like a blighted structure," she said. 

Dorsey said Friday that he prefers the transparency to the plywood of old, and thinks it will make the home easier to sell.

"A person looking to buy the house can make a judgment call by seeing the house without going into the house," Dorsey said. "And a vandal can see there's nothing inside to get."

In December, Arthur Jemison, Detroit's former group executive of Housing, Planning and Development, said vacant homes next to occupied homes would be the "No. 1 priority."

Strickland said Friday that the land bank hopes to have 3,000 properties up for sale by the end of the year. Additional houses could come online down the line after Wayne County resumes its foreclosure auctions, which had been halted during the pandemic.

As of its last quarterly report on June 30, the land bank had 79,626 properties in its inventory, including 64,327 vacant lots as well as 15,299 structures. Of the structures, 14,705 were residential, 70 nonresidential and 524 accessory structures. 

To view homes available for sale, visit