Berman: Lessons from an eviction gone wrong

Laura Berman
The Detroit News

In the Detroit neighborhood where Howard Franklin and his adult daughter were killed Nov. 29, there's a conversation in progress: How to prevent any more Wild West-style shootouts.

This is Rosedale Park, still a neighborhood that's retained pride and gentility displayed in its well-tended lawns and solid brick colonials and Tudors. Its residents take pride in block associations that date back almost a century. There's a security committee and a vacancy committee, actively maintained by residents who log disruptions and foreclosures as if doing so was their vocation.

But last Friday on the 1500 block of Piedmont, the Franklins walked into the house they'd bought at the Wayne County auction. Police say they were both armed. Alonzo Long Jr., a relative of the home's owner, is charged with first-degree murder in the deaths of Franklin and Catherine Franklin, 37.

It's the kind of tragic confrontation that's rare but ominous, as the county readies more than 75,000 properties for foreclosure this year. And it was especially chilling to Rosedale Park neighbors as the fallout from the city's 2008 real estate collapse continues to cascade.

Out of town for the Thanksgiving weekend, Margaret Weber, who lives on the street, got a call from an elderly neighbor. "'She said, 'There's screams and gunshots from the house next door.'"

"This was a case of people who don't know how to resolve conflict who met up at the wrong place, at the wrong time, carrying guns," said Karen Moore, the community security manager for the Grandmont Rosedale Development Corporation and a 30-year-resident of the area.

What happened on Piedmont is also a story of a housing market that's still deeply underwater and a tax collection system that's gone off the rails. The little 800-square-foot bungalow is but one illustration of an entire system's dysfunction. "What we have in Detroit is a hurricane without water," says Jim Dwight, who lives in Rosedale Park and works on eviction defense.

The home's owners, Willie and Margaret Fletcher, paid $35,750 for the house, but faced property taxes based on a $46,864 assessment. According to public records, they didn't pay taxes. By the time they lost the house, they owed more than $40,000 in taxes and fees — far more than the house was worth.

"I feel the sheriff's department, the Detroit Police Department, and the Wayne County treasurer need to be locked in a room and work out a process to assure the safe conveyance of these properties so we don't have any more shootouts at the OK Corral," says Pam Weinstein, who lives a block away.

Over coffee at Always Brewing, the Rosedale Park cafe on Grand River, area residents offered their own suggestions — everything from a moratorium on taxes to homeownership classes for auction buyers to training on how auction buyers can safely ease out unwanted occupants.

In Lansing on Wednesday, legislators were listening to Mayor Mike Duggan push another promising strategy to help ease out of the current madness: Legislation that would slash interest on overdue taxes and, potentially, create limits on overdue taxes, and encourage homeowners to pay their taxes and stay in their homes.

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