Post pizza party, Garden City council hears pleas

Christine MacDonald
The Detroit News

Garden City residents facing eviction from their tax-foreclosed homes purchased by the city this summer pleaded with council members for help Monday night.

The heated meeting lasted about an hour with those facing eviction loudly peppering members with questions. The council recessed briefly after audience members, including residents who supported the city’s program and protesters, began yelling and pointing angrily at each other.

“We are begging you guys,” Eleanore Ewald, who could soon lose her family home, told council members. “Help us out.”

“Shame on you for taking our occupied homes.”

Mayor Randy Walker tries to restore order at the Garden City council meeting. He said the situation, while unfortunate, was out of the city's hands.

A growing number of Wayne county suburbs are buying tax-foreclosed homes, saying they want to prevent blight and discourage absentee landlords from acquiring properties at the county’s fall auction.

But many homeowners, who were on payment plans, said the county led them to believe they still had time to save their homes before the auction. Many weren’t aware they were sold until served with eviction notices from developers.

Mayor Randy Walker told residents Monday night that the city couldn’t help them. It was the county that foreclosed, and the developers who bought them now hold the deeds with plans to rehab and sell the homes, he said.

Mayor: Pizza in oven, no time to hear foreclosure pleas

“This is a very unfortunate situation when people lose their properties,” Walker said. “But it is out of the city’s hands. We have great sympathy in your situation. You will not find the resolution you are looking for at the city level.”

The meeting comes a week after about seven families were blocked from speaking to council members because officials had a pizza party planned after that council meeting. Walker said the session was to swear in new officials and those meetings don’t usually feature public comment.

Attorney Tarek Baydoun, who represents many of the families, asked the council to rescind the contracts the city has with two developers who purchased the homes.

Ewald and others said they have the money to pay and want the city to stop the evictions.

“I feel like you guys stole my house and sold it from underneath me,” said Cheryl Deanda, who fell behind on taxes because of a job loss but now has the $16,000 to pay the tax debt. She has been told by officials that it is too late to save her home.

County officials say they are clear with residents who are on some payment plans that missing payments could mean losing the property. Foreclosure typically is triggered after taxes go unpaid for three years.

The program, which is the first for Garden City, divided even tax-paying residents at the meeting.

“If you own a home there are certain things you must do … if you don’t do these things, there are consequences,” said Dick King, a Garden City resident of 40 years, to council members. “Failure of people to pay their taxes puts an unfair burden on those of us who do pay their taxes.”

But resident Jenny McMullen, who has lived in the city 60 years, said the city should do what it can to keep people in their homes.

“Why would you involve yourself in taking away people’s homes?” McMullen said.

“People fall on hard times. You should be helping the citizens of Garden City, not taking away.”

The developers generally buy the properties from the cities for the price of the unpaid taxes and are required to invest a certain amount in rehab costs. The developers keep any profits. The goal is to sell them to owner-occupants. Details of how Garden City’s program works weren’t available. City Manager Robert Muery didn’t return calls from The Detroit News for comment.

The auction is held in September and October for properties typically owing three years in unpaid taxes, but cities can take properties in July by exercising their right of first refusal. Taylor bought 106 properties, while Lincoln Park took 90; Redford Township, 76; Dearborn, 35; and Garden City, 28, according to county records. In Garden City, 17 were homes. It’s not clear how many are occupied.