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Occupied Detroit Land Bank Homes Pose Challenge

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A vacant home in Detroit's Brightmoor neighborhood. (WWJ Photo/Vickie Thomas) File

A vacant home in Detroit’s Brightmoor neighborhood. (WWJ Photo/Vickie Thomas) File

DETROIT (AP) – The Detroit Land Bank Authority hopes to come up with a plan later this year on how to deal with homes it is trying to sell that are occupied, officials said.

An analysis by The Detroit News of data from the city’s blight-removal task force found about 1,800 of 8,600 houses currently held by the Land Bank were likely occupied as of December. The Land Bank is supposed to sell or demolish the homes.

Those living in the homes can include squatters, renters or former owners who didn’t pay their taxes.

The Land Bank began auctioning off homes online early May as part of an effort to get them fixed up and stabilize Detroit neighborhoods. It is part of a broader effort to deal with vacant and blighted Detroit properties, but eviction isn’t always a priority.

“We are brainstorming right now,” said Land Bank attorney Kevin Simowski. “We are going to be considering a lot of different options. We want to have a clear, transparent and consistent policy.”

In one case earlier this month, eight police officers were among those who showed up to get a woman out of a home on the city’s west side where the taxes hadn’t been paid. She avoided eviction, the newspaper said, by going inside to make a phone call and refusing to leave. Authorities left to avoid a confrontation, but towed two vehicles authorities said were illegally parked.

Bryan Ferguson, who lives nearby, said stronger action should have been taken.

“You have to draw a line in the sand,” said Ferguson, whose Schoolcraft Improvement Association works to oust squatters. “We all have to pay our fair share.”

Another west side resident, Jason Buckens, said he wants the Land Bank to work with occupants. His bungalow went into foreclosure last year, he said, because the mortgage company never sent the city money he paid every month for property taxes.

“You are already trying to get people to stay in the city,” said Buckens, who said he helps maintain vacant lots in the area. “You need to create a program so people can get the houses. We are good for the neighborhood, and we deserve a chance to stay in the houses.”

RELATED: Detroit Neighbors Claim High Bidders Aren’t Taking Care Of Properties Won At Auction

© Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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