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More Detroiters regain homes lost to tax foreclosure through "buy-back" program

duggan with tapscott posing for cameras
Sarah Cwiek
Michigan Radio
Mayor Mike Duggan presents Yalanda Tapscott with the deed to a home lost to tax foreclosure. The home has been in Tapscott's family for three generations.

In a ceremony at Detroit’s Northwest Activities Center on Wednesday, a small handful of Detroiters regained homes lost to property tax foreclosure.

The group of 60 was the second to complete the Detroit Land Bank’s “occupied buy-back” program. About 80 people completed the program last month.

The Detroit Land Bank now has close to 100,000 properties in its inventory, making it the largest property owner in the city. Around 4,000 of them are thought to be occupied.

Mayor Mike Duggan has massively expanded the Land Bank during his administration. But he says people living in Land Bank-owned properties deserve at least “a path” to homeownership.

“If you want to own the house, we want to give you a path,” Duggan said. “We don’t want to own the houses. We want you to own the houses.”

That “responsible pathway” includes a $1,000 down payment, contributions toward future property taxes, and homeownership courses. There are also home maintenance requirements.

Duggan says the program is “important and growing.” Nearly 600 people are currently enrolled, with “new enrollments happening every month,” according to the Land Bank. But this is the final group that will complete the program in 2017.

To participate, people have to have “some connection” to the Land Bank-owned property. That includes people who owned the home before it went into foreclosure and was purchased by the Land Bank; rented the property from a homeowner who went into foreclosure; or is a family member of the last homeowner.

Montesh Glass says her home went into foreclosure after she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. She was initially in a state foreclosure prevention program, but says she was kicked out after she couldn’t continue working, which was a program requirement.

“Everything just fell apart all at once,” Glass said. “And that was like the straw that broke the camel’s back.”

But after completing the buy-back program, Glass walked away from the Northwest Activities Center with the deed to her home once again. “So I’m happy now,” she said.

Some critics say the Land Bank program represents too little, too late for most people who lose their homes to tax foreclosure.

The agency only acquires the homes after they’ve already been through the massive, online Wayne County property tax auction, which has auctioned off tens of thousands of foreclosed homes in the past few years, the vast majority of them in Detroit.

Another 4335 tax-foreclosed but still-occupied Detroit properties will go up for sale during the auction's first round in September.

Sarah Cwiek joined Michigan Radio in October 2009. As our Detroit reporter, she is helping us expand our coverage of the economy, politics, and culture in and around the city of Detroit.
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