Wayne County to auction off many occupied Detroit homes


Not every home is occupied, but the process of auctioning them means many longtime residents will have to leave.
  • Not every home is occupied, but the process of auctioning them means many longtime residents will have to leave.

A story about Detroit appeared on Al Jazeera America today describing how many longtime residents will be forced to leave their homes when they're auctioned off due to unpaid taxes. Detroit has more than its fair share of hard-done-by homeowners who've stuck it out when the city has been at its lowest ebb, and they've been able to do it because they've owned their homes outright, free and clear of any mortgage. In fact, when it comes to poor big cities where homeowners aren't encumbered by a mortgage, Detroit is simply off the charts.

And, as Detroit begins to show signs of picking up, that should be a good thing for these people, many of whom have spent year after year paying taxes on properties that are assessed too generously, all while mowing vacant lots, paying for a light out front to brighten an unlit street, enduring life with high crime, poor emergency response times, troubled schools, and concentrations of social ills. Many of these families have owned their homes for decades, having plunked down their entire family fortune to buy a home, only to find themselves facing disinvestment as people of means moved out of the city. They've had it tough, and now some of them are about to lose it all.

The piece in Al Jazeera America seemed pretty even-handed. It offered plenty of assurances from local leaders that there is help available for those who seek it out. Be that as it may, thousands will find themselves homeless after the auction. Nobody seems to be stepping up with the millions of dollars needed to pay their back taxes and reward them for their resilience.

Of course, there is money to pay for demolishing vacant houses, 6,000 since January 2014. If it really does cost between $10,000 and $15,000 to demolish a home, that's at least $60 million right there. So there are funds to help demolition contractors clean up ... Detroit neighborhoods, that is. But only after the home is left vacant.

This isn't to say there's some conspiracy to move Detroiters along. In the current political climate, poor people don't have a great deal of political power, and so the solutions aren't going to address their needs very well, if at all. But try explaining that to the average resident facing the business end of that system. It's well summed up in a quote from one of the story's subjects, Jessie West, who says, "“They want to get us out of Detroit. ... That’s just the truth.”