Gilchrist late on taxes for blighted building

On Monday, there were no longer any mattresses in the backyard of Garlin Gilchrist II's property on Marsten in Detroit.

Detroit — Garlin Gilchrist II, the Democratic candidate for lieutenant governor, has never paid Detroit property taxes on time for a blighted duplex apartment building he purchased in 2016 and was forced to clean up over the weekend.

Gilchrist on Monday paid off a $768.23 summer property tax bill after missing the city’s deadline to pay an initial installment Aug. 15 or in full by Aug. 31. The Detroit Treasury Department considered his account late but would not have flagged him as delinquent until March 1.

He was delinquent in 2017, his first year owing taxes on the property, when Gilchrist failed to pay his summer and winter bills on time, prompting the city to send his case to Wayne County for collections.

Gilchrist paid off $935.18 in delinquent taxes and fees on June 5, according to county records. Democratic gubernatorial nominee Gretchen Whitmer announced him as her running mate Aug. 20.

Whitmer's campaign did not comment on Gilchrist's history of late tax payments on the property but said earlier Monday that Gilchrist had provided the city with evidence he secured and cleaned up the fire-damaged duplex, which he was in danger of losing due to its blighted condition.

Gilchrist made $137,300 a year as executive director of the University of Michigan's Center for Social Media Responsibility before taking an unpaid personal leave in mid-August to run for state office.

The building has become fresh ammunition for Gilchrist's Republican opponents, who accuse him of “incompetence" as he works on a campaign that promises to "get things done." Over the weekend, GOP gubernatorial nominee Bill Schuette filmed a social media video in front of the Detroit house and called on Gilchrist to resign from the Democratic ticket.

Gilchrist bought the duplex apartment in August 2016 in the North End neighborhood for $27,000 from the Detroit Land Bank Authority, city records show. 

Fencing has been installed around the front of the property at 253 and 257 Marston Street in Detroit. The property was bought in 2016 by Garlin Gilchrist II from the Detroit Land Bank Authority.

Gilchrist's ownership of the 253 Marston St. property and its condition were first reported by Deadline Detroit. The land bank, which controls property lost in tax foreclosure and is the city's largest land owner, said Friday the condition of the property is "unacceptable" and gave him until the end of Monday to provide proof it is safe and secure.

"We sent the Land Bank all of the documentation that was requested prior to the deadline to demonstrate that the property is secured and being maintained, and we believe the property is currently in compliance," Pohl said Monday morning.

The land bank did not immediately confirm or comment on the matter.

A state of disrepair

Numbers weren’t immediately available on how many Detroit properties have been a year late on taxes. But as of last month, about 37,600 were being noticed for possible foreclosure by the Wayne County Treasurer for owing 2016 taxes.

Photos on a city property records website show the building had fallen into a significant state of disrepair at least two years before Gilchrist purchased it as part of a program that required him to make improvements.

Gilchrist discussed the property in a video statement Monday night, saying that after he and his wife moved back to Michigan in 2014, they were looking for ways to contribute to Detroit's recovery.

They purchased the "potentially beautiful apartment building" despite fire damage, a hole in the roof and other issues, he said. "We poured our own money" into the project but struggled to secure financing to finish the rehabilitation.

"We made some honest oversights," Gilchrist acknowledged. "That's all fixed now, and we are confident that not only are the taxes all paid up to speed, not only have the land bank's needs been satisfied, but also we're close to finding financing to be able to bring this project forward and make it be a positive contribution to the North End neighborhood." 

Derrick Powers, 21, said he has lived two houses down from the complex for at least a dozen years, dating back to a time when it had been occupied.The vacant building is next door to an occupied complex with family flats. 

Powers said Monday he hadn't seen any activity on the property in recent days. In the past, he has seen work trucks outside and the formerly collapsing porch has been repaired. There are also new windows and a new gate around the perimeter.

As of Monday morning, there were some bricks and cinder blocks on the grass in the front yard of the property. There no longer appeared to be any mattresses moldering the back yard, as reported last week by Deadline Detroit. But the back yard remains disheveled, and there is a pile of bricks back there.

The lawn was mowed, the fence was locked and secured, and building materials and trash that had been dumped were removed from the front and rear of the property, said Pohl, with the Whitmer campaign. "The property is safe and secure."

Neighbor complains

Powers, the neighbor, noted it’s been two years since the property was bought and said he doesn’t see a reason why it hasn't been rehabilitated.

“I don’t think it’s hard. You’ve got to put the effort in,” said Powers, who told The News he was not familiar with Gilchrist but thinks “it’s crazy” that the owner of the blighted apartment building is the running mate of the Democratic candidate for governor. “A lot of places around here have been fixed up.”

Across the street is a lot that Powers said has long been vacant. The property to the other side of the Gilchrist property is also vacant with open windows and signs that say “private property.”

Powers said overall the area is “on the rebuild” and he’s seen progress with many formerly vacant properties nearby. On Monday morning, two work men were clearing debris from a property on the corner down from Gilchrist's dilapidated building.

Schuette visited the property Saturday and filmed a campaign video from outside a perimeter fence.

“There’s kids riding on the sidewalk nearby, no security,” Schuette said. “(Gilchrist's) not living here. How’d you like to be his neighbor? Yet he wants to be part of running the state of Michigan? You wouldn’t want to hire him because he’s not making sure this property is safe for people and his neighbors here in the city of Detroit.”

Schuette's 'desperate' attack

Pohl called it a "desperate" attack from Schuette that he does not think voters will buy. 

“Every poll shows Bill Schuette losing badly to Gretchen Whitmer, so now he’s attacking her running mate to distract voters from the fact that Schuette filed nine lawsuits to rip health care away from Michigan families," he said, referencing legal challenges to the Affordable Care Act that Schuette was part of as attorney general. 

Asked Friday if her campaign was aware of the property when it vetted Gilchrist to be her running mate, Whitmer said she had “a conversation about it” but told reporters “the imminent need to remedy it was not something we appreciated until relatively recently.”

The situation “requires immediate attention, and it’s being given that,” she said Friday. But Whitmer argued the condition of the property has little to do with Gilchrist’s ability to help run state government.

“Give me a break,” she said. “You know, Garlin wanted to come make an investment in the city of Detroit. He was excited to come back home. ... Obviously, people have bumps, and he’s trying to do his best to get it remedied, and I’m confident he will." 

When she announced Gilchrist as her running mate in mid-August, the former Senate minority leader called him a “tech guru” who could help her “get things done.” 

Staff Reporter Christine MacDonald contributed