Oops? State demolishes recently purchased homes in Detroit, shocking new owners

Artists Kristine Diven and Micho Detronik thought they found the perfect home in Detroit.

The fixer-upper was spacious with a second-floor balcony, a new roof and beautiful fireplaces. The east-side house needed a little work – new bathtubs, doors and electrical wiring.

But less than a month after getting the house at a Wayne County foreclosure auction, the couple were shocked Thursday when they found rubble in the place of their two-story brick house on Berkshire.

Turns out, the Michigan Land Bank, an economic development engine for the state, has demolished an estimated 20 houses that were purchased at the recent auction. It planned to raze even more.

Even worse, the Michigan Land Bank and Wayne County Treasurer’s Office knew homes were being auctioned off even though they were slated for demolition, the Motor City Muckraker has discovered.

“Both MLB and the Treasurer’s office were aware of the potential overlap in advance of the auction, and have been reconciling lists,” an email from the Michigan Land Bank reads. “Many of the addresses were under contract and state permit prior to that second auction.”

Diven is shaken up.

“We are devastated by our house being demoed,” Diven said. “I can only imagine how others are feeling and will feel. … We felt very blessed to buy our home.”

The state and county won’t return our calls. Gov. Rick Snyder appoints members to the Michigan Landbank Fast Track Authority, and his office hasn’t responded to questions.

What’s also disturbing about the demolition is the quality of houses that have been razed or are on the demo list. Many are large, gorgeous homes that only need a few repairs.

With more than 40,000 vacant houses, the city is rife with homes that have been burned or are falling over. It’s unclear why the state would target homes that can be fixed up, rather razing houses that are a danger to the public.

The city and the Michigan Land Bank Track Authority entered into an agreement in October to demolish about 1,200 houses and businesses. The buildings were placed on the fast track for demolition.

Although the demolition was not the city’s fault, Detroit officials have been working with Diven and Detronik to urge them to find another home in Detroit.

“Of course Kristine and her family are the kind of citizens we want to live in the city,” Karla Henderson, Detroit Mayor Dave Bing’s group executive over the buildings department, posted on Diven’s Facebook page. “After speaking with her this morning and hearing all the wonderful things she is involved in, it would be our lost if she left. Please know that the City will work with her to find a comparable house. Although the City was not responsible for the demo we feel it is the right thing to do.”

Update: State apologized and takes blame for blunder.

Steve Neavling is an investigative journalist and former city hall reporter for the Detroit Free Press. Got tips or suggestions? Contact Steve at sneavling@gmail.com

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Steve Neavling

Steve Neavling lives and works in Detroit as an investigative journalist. His stories have uncovered corruption, led to arrests and reforms and prompted FBI investigations.