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Purchasing Detroit’s Vacant Land: Stories from the Side Lots

Detroit occupies approximately 140-square miles of land. At its height, the city was filled with single family homes where people could live out the American dream. But following a significant loss of population, many of these homes sat empty and open for scrappers to strip out wire and pipes or for squatters to lay claim to the blighted properties leaving the structures vulnerable to fires.

Since Detroit emerged from bankruptcy, the city has accelerated its blight demolition initiative. While many empty or burned out homes are disappearing from the landscape, empty side lots are being left behind. To counter these empty lots, the city has made them available for homeowners to purchase—provided they’re up-to-date on their taxes. As part of WDET’s “Detroit Bankruptcy: One Year Later” series, reporter J. Carlisle Larsen speaks with some people who have purchased these lots through Detroit’s Land Bank Authority

 

Riet Schumack lives in Detroit’s Brightmoor neighborhood on the northwest side of the city. She was able to purchase the side lot though the Land Bank Authority after the city tore down a blighted home on the site. The side lot is now home to an urban garden where neighbors can now plant and grow food.

 

Michelle Koyton lives near Marygrove College in Detroit. She purchased her home in 2008 assuming the yard adjacent to her home was part of her property because a fence had been built surrounding both plots. She later discovered that she didn’t own the lot and spent years trying to purchase the land.

 

Scott Hastings lives in the Morningside neighborhood on the city’s east side. He purchased the lot this year and had originally planned on having a large back yard. However, he was approached by Habitat for Humanity and asked to donate the lot so the organization could build a new home on the site. Within months, the charity had built a new home that a family will be moving into in December. 

 

Deborah Briggs lives on the city’s east side. The lot she purchased had previously been a home that the city recently tore down and is sandwiched between her home and a burned-out, blighted house. While she purchased the lot through the Land Bank, the Wayne County Treasurer keeps placing the lot in foreclosure due to back taxes from the previous home-owner. Briggs has been working with the city and the county to come to an agreement about the property, even giving back the deed to the land back to the city until the groups can resolve the issue. 

 

Image credit: J. Carlisle Larsen

This post is a part of Detroit Bankruptcy: One Year Later Series .

For a month, the Detroit Journalism Cooperative journalists will explore the impact of the city’s bankruptcy case, including its impact on people and neighborhoods and its long-term implications.

Audiences are invited to a free, community event where they can hear directly from key figures in the case and ask questions. The 6 to 8 p.m. program on Wednesday, Dec. 9 will be at Wayne State University’s Community Arts Auditorium. Learn more.


Presented by WDET in partnership with the Detroit Journalism Cooperative.

Support for this project comes from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, Renaissance Journalism’s Michigan Reporting Initiative and the Ford Foundation.

 

  

About the Author

J. Carlisle Larsen

Producer, Detroit Today & WDET’s Morning Edition

JCL serves as a reporter, producer, and anchor for WDET. She’s a fan of audio editing, writing, and Space Jam. Hoosier by way of California and Nevada.

jlarsen@wdet.org   Follow @jcarlislelarsen

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