Earlier this month, Detroit mayor Dave Bing began handing out free homes to the police and other city employees. While the gesture was groundbreaking and grand, a larger problem looms as homeless city residents begin to reoccupy the more than 100,000 vacant homes and clashes between rightful residents and the unlawful force the city to ponder solutions for its growing population of squatters.
In the process to evict squatters, Michigan law places the burden of proof on rightful owners, meaning the eviction process can take months because banks now own most of the homes. Also, officials report that complaints received by the city have tripled in recent years, making an adequate response difficult.
Given the long wait, some communities are organizing to find ways to keep people out of the abandoned homes illegally. Others have embraced the situation.
"We should look at it both ways: How do we embrace it and turn the negative into a positive?" said Quincy Jones, head of the Osborn Neighborhood Alliance. "All these homes are sitting and it's an open invitation for squatters. It helps prevent homes from being stripped.”
In that same spirit, some residents, homeowners themselves, have elected to take over properties in an effort to clean up their neighborhoods.
Lance Clowney unofficially took over an abandoned two-family flat where he maintains the grass, uses the home for storage and a separate home for his dog.
"I see it as a good service to the community. I'm not using it for nothing," Clowney told the Detroit News. "If someone had a deed or whatever, I would move out of the way. It's my responsibility to take care of the house. I don't see nothing wrong with (squatting) as long as they are taking care of it. That seems like something good."
Squatters are undoubtedly breaking the law, but some propose a little more compassion, and perhaps even a break for the beleaguered, homeless city residents. An op-ed published in the Detroit Free Press earlier this week suggested that the city should help all of the city’s working poor to safely occupy the city’s abandoned homes, rather than force many to live in squalor.
(Photo: Rebecca Cook/Reuters)