Stuck in Detroit: One day, five fires and one man trying to flee “this hell”

larry fire_0493Larry feels imprisoned in his diminishing slice of Detroit. The 62-year-old lives in a house no one would buy. Burglaries, drive-by shootings, rats and drug dens have chased out most people, but Larry has no money to move.

On Sunday afternoon, Larry paced outside while flames spread through four neighboring, vacant homes on the east side.

“I want to get out of Detroit, but I can’t afford to,” Larry said as firefighters hosed down a blaze next door on the 8000 bock of East Brentwood near Van Dyke and 7 Mile. “I’m trapped in this hell. I can’t even leave my house after 7 because it’s too dangerous.”

Less than an hour after firefighters left, neighbors began scavenging the charred debris for scrap metal. By the time they left, another fire broke out on the street.

No police arrived. No arson investigators. Just another day in an area all but written off by the city.

Larry neighborhood_0513Streetlights don’t work. Underground sewer lines are exposed because the manhole covers were stolen by thieves. A block away, Antwerp Avenue is impassable because garbage bags, glass and broken pieces of furniture are strewn about.

In 1988, Larry said he bought his house for $80,000.

“It was as a good place to live,” Larry said, turning his back to gusts of smoke. “Two cops lived on the street. “You had nothing to worry about.”

Now, Larry would be lucky to fetch $100 for his house. His annual home insurance? $3,000, in large because of the fires.

Got tips or suggestions? Contact Steve at sneavling@gmail.com. 

Steve Neavling is an investigative journalist, a freelance reporter for Reuters and former city hall reporter for the Detroit Free Press. Neavling explores corruption, the unsung heroes and the underbelly of an oft-misunderstood city.

Follow us on Twitter and Facebook for daily updates, investigations, photos and videos of the Motor City. 

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.

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  • Steve Neavling

    Big Bill, there’s no room for racist language on this page. If you can’t comment without relying on tired stereotypes, please refrain from using this page.

  • cojo

    SBPDL dot com

    Explains in detail what is happening in Detroit, Birminham, Chicago, Camden……

    • How are people supposed to want to come back to Detroit when you read about these type of conditions that they are living in?It is sad,scary and wrong.How can these areas ever change?Even when the houses are gone,what then?Who is going to build there or look for a job?What is really going to happen to Detroit?Is it going to be gone except for these few areas that are nice? Where will all the criminals go then,to the suburbs? Its so overwhelming to think about that I just SMH!

  • wah, wah, wah
    you voted for it, enjoy it.
    and if you had any brains or initiative, you would leave. wah wah wah
    need the gubmint to wipe your ass too?

  • Jimmy

    Yet the Larrys of our state will go out and vote for the next clown who plays the race card. How can you feel sorry for that.

  • Bebow, I think I love you. I wish more of those who believe that the upcoming EM is a “takeover” would consider, or even listen to, the argument you presented.

    • bebow

      Thank you for the love, cat. Love Larry, too, the man being forced from a now worthless $80,000 home he has lived in for 25 years. Aggressive demolition and law enforcement would allow Larry to keep his home for the balance of his life, as he surely planned, although in a more rural-looking setting than he imagined.

  • Steve

    Larry! If it was me I would not be paying that insurance or mortgage or taxes and saving every dime I could to make my escape. Find a relative or friend to share an apartment with and get out of there before something worse happens!

  • bebow

    This is what it means to be “unselected” in Bing’s Detroit Works plan. While the “selected” colonials are serviced and subsidized to the hilt in downtown and Midtown, residents like Larry struggle for survival in conditions of Third World squalor and lawlessness. The story isn’t complete, however, without a report on Larry’s property tax assessment. Larry already contributed $80,000+ to the colonials’ cause, but I’m guessing the corrupt, incompetent Finance-Assessments Division is tapping him for an additional $2,000 – $3,000 per year in property taxes. Bing knew his big fire department announcement would result in jacked up insurance rates in the neighborhoods, and didn’t he also say, before backstepping double-time, that he would use indirect means to force us off of our properties? Why should we fret about the state seizing control of the city when our own have done us like this? What could Snyder do to top this kind of result? Ship us off to Fallujah? Let Snyder come with a swiftness, appoint an EM, and deal harshly with those who inflicted this unholy mess on decent residents like Larry and me. No pay for the perpetrators, no staffs, no perks, no bodyguards, no pencils, paperclips, or tape. Bring it, Snyder, bring it now.

    • Jimmy

      Fighting downtown and midtown is the worst thing you could do. Those areas are Detroit’s only hope for bringing in tax revenue and jobs. It isn’t about getting your share of the dwindling pie, it’s about baking more pies.

      Blacks in Detroit are like the UAW. They always want to fight the whites in their midst when the whites are the goose that lays the golden eggs. In the case of the UAW, they always wanted to make it labor vs. management. They almost killed their golden goose and almost died with it.

      The real enemy for the UAW was the Japanese automakers, not their employers. For blacks, the real enemy is other blacks who purport to lead them while they line their own pockets.

      Blacks need to look past their collective noses. People who work hard and succeed aren’t sellouts or Uncle Tom’s or ‘acting white,’ anymore than newly successful people in Asia and South America are ‘acting white.’ You need to get out of your little parochial world and expand your vision. You are your own worst enemy.

    • bebow

      Listen to yourself, Jimmy. Surely 95% of the population should be willing to martyr itself for the downtown and Midtown cause, right? Our degrees are less valid. Our work holds less meaning. Our whopping tax contributions purchase nothing but nesting material for heavily subsidized, hipster goslings. Any minute now, the hipsters will drop those skinny jeans to start laying eggs, pies, or something in return for the disproportionate share of the resources they’ve taken from the majority of the city. What the UAW has to do with any of this is a mystery. I’m not a union member or supporter, as unions cannot represent the interests of individuals like me, and in many cases, unions tend to victimize my fellow Detroiters through corruption.

    • bebow

      Big Bill, you are a fucking poltroon. Keep the babble to yourself.

      • Steve Neavling

        I’ve marked his posts as spam, so hopefully he no longer will be able to comment. Sorry that his messages stayed up so long. I spotted them today.