Over the past year, we’ve reported on some of Detroit’s most persistent and important housing and development issues: displacement, eviction, neighborhood change and the difficulty financing and finishing home repairs.
At the center of these stories are individuals who were brave and generous enough to share their experiences in order to warn and inform other Detroiters. We wanted to bring you an update on some of the people and situations we wrote about this year to see how they’re doing.
Charges dropped against tenant arrested by police
In October, we wrote about Jai Kiser, a victim of a rental scam who was later arrested by Detroit police and accused of squatting in an apartment she had a right to be in. Kiser’s experience alerted us to the existence of the Detroit Police Department’s Squatters Action Team, which is actually just a single individual who investigates and provides guidance to officers on landlord-tenant disputes. The arrest cost Kiser all of her belongings and $4,400 in bail. It uprooted her life. She wanted to leave the state but was not allowed before her trial, so she lived in a hotel in Dearborn paid for by the state.
All charges against Kiser were dropped on Dec. 1. According to her attorney Joe McGuire, prosecutors said their decision was in the “best interest of justice.”
“It’s a bittersweet situation,” Kiser said. “I’m obviously glad the charges are gone, but it just makes me mad all over again. For them to drop the changes means they know they were wrong in the first place.”
Kiser is now considering staying in the state. She was just approved for a Section 8 housing voucher that will pay for a percentage of her rent at her next house. She doesn’t want it to be in Detroit.
“I don’t feel safe there,” Kiser said.
Still living with lead paint
LaShawna Anthony bought a house from the Detroit Land Bank Authority in summer 2020 that was full of lead-based paint. Anthony only discovered the issue after she had moved in with her one-year-old son — he later tested positive for lead exposure, twice.
When we wrote about Anthony in early November, she was in a jam. She had been approved for a city-led program in August 2021 that remediates lead paint. The program would also provide fixes for structural problems in the home and Anthony desperately needed a new roof. But work still hadn’t begun by the time we did our story and it had already been more than a year since she was approved.
Anthony is in a similar place today. Her roof still leaks whenever it rains and the walls are still covered in lead paint.
“I had to go to Home Depot to buy more buckets because it leaked in new spots the last time it rained,” she said. “It’s just really stressful.”
Anthony says she still needs to install a shower in the upstairs bathroom before she can get a full clearance from a city building inspector. She’s hoping to finish up the work by early January.
What happens when you buy a house with no water
Spenser Harris bought a house from the land bank in 2020. Some of the homes in the land bank’s inventory don’t have a service line connecting them to the main water line because the lines were cut when they were on the demolition list. No one knows how many homes this is true for, but it’s likely to be substantial.
Harris ended up with one of these houses despite calling the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department (DWSD) before he bought the house. A representative said there was no record of the service line to the house being cut or removed, even though DWSD knew its records weren’t reliable. It continued to give out information about service lines to land bank homebuyers, including Harris.
Despite the mistake, DWSD did not offer to make it right, so Harris was on the hook for thousands of dollars to replace the service line.
DWSD has not changed its policies to make sure this doesn’t happen again. Department spokesperson Bryan Peckinpaugh said representatives don’t give out information on the status of service lines, and instead make an appointment at the property.
“If someone is purchasing a house and they call DWSD, we provide the current balance on the account,” he wrote to Outlier by email. “Once they purchase the house and establish a service account with DWSD, then we start the process (of turning on water).”
Harris didn’t want to give up on the home. His grandmother lives on the block and he wanted to take out equity from his home to help fix hers. He eventually paid for a service line replacement himself — it cost a little over $5,000.
The experience with DWSD was frustrating and more expensive than anticipated but it hasn’t deterred him from contributing to the beautification of his stretch of Petoskey Avenue. He’s even considering buying another land bank house that’s for sale on the block.
“The reason I came back to the city was to make an impact,” Harris said. “People usually latch on when they see other people getting things done.”
Community bands together against dams and flooding
Angela Young has lived in Detroit’s Canal District with her family for more than 20 years. They love the neighborhood because it gives them access to the water to fish, swim or go paddleboarding.
But when we reported on the Young’s situation this summer, their way of life was at risk. The City of Detroit was considering closing off some of the canals temporarily or even permanently in an effort to prevent catastrophic flooding. The area is designated by FEMA as a floodplain, which has forced property owners to buy expensive flood insurance and dampened investment.
Residents unanimously opposed the city’s plan to dam the canals. At an October meeting with Jefferson Chalmers residents, the city announced it wouldn’t close any of the canals. Instead, the city said it would repair seawalls that it owns along the river and step up enforcement of seawalls on private property. The city estimates that almost half of the 366 property owners have deficient sea walls.
Young told Outlier last week residents are committed to finding alternative solutions to flooding. She said there are a number of absent landlords and speculators who haven’t fixed up their property, and the community is thinking of ways to buy those properties so they can do the work themselves.
“We fully intend to get the area out of the hazardous flood plain designation.”
She said all the organizing between residents has brought the community closer together.
“This whole experience has been very empowering,” Young said. “It’s made me realize even more that not just our little neck of the woods here, but the whole Jefferson Chalmers area, is quite a special place.”
Finding a home at last
When we reported in June about the state placing evicted Detroiters in hotels, Brenda Sheard, 72, had already been staying in a hotel in Allen Park for several months. She was having trouble finding affordable senior housing and didn’t know where she was going to live. Her hotel stay was being paid for by the COVID Emergency Rental Assistance program, but that program ended in June 2022. The City of Detroit has been providing some rental assistance to place and transition residents from hotels to more stable housing.
Sheard didn’t get back to us. But Dave Mesrey, a spokesperson for the United Community Housing Coalition, the organization that arranged her hotel stay, said she “was placed in subsidized housing and is doing well.”
Reach AARON MONDRY at email@example.com or 313-403-7221. This article appears in today’s issue of The Dig, Outlier Media’s weekly newsletter on housing and real estate. Sign up to receive The Dig.