18 Aug 2015

Detroit on pace to sell 3,000 vacant lots to neighboring homeowners this year for $100 each

Linda Gadsden spent years living next door to an overgrown and weed-filled dumping ground.
By next summer, the 63-year-old Detroiter says it will be a lush garden with pumpkins, watermelon, tomatoes, lettuce and greens.
It cost Gadsden less than two hours and $100 to snap up the property next to her corner lot home on Indiana Avenue during a Detroit Land Bank Authority side lot sale fair last month.
Mayor Mike Duggan’s administration launched the program last year to make it easier for residents to purchase vacant lots. Formerly, the process of gaining ownership had often been tedious and spanned years.
“There were times that I would go out and attempt to stop people from dumping things, but (the lot) wasn’t mine. Therefore, my voice didn’t carry a lot of weight,” Gadsden said. “It’s exciting to finally be able to maintain something that belongs to me.”
Duggan announced the pilot effort last winter to accelerate the sale of side lots through targeted fairs serving residents within specific City Council districts.
Just eight months in, officials say the program is a success, with Detroit on pace to get 3,000 vacant lots into the hands of residents by the end of the year. Officials said between online and neighborhood fairs, side lot sales mark a 10-fold increase from the previous maximum of about 300 side lot sales each year.
As of July 25, the land bank had sold 2,188 side lots in neighborhoods throughout the city. Of those, 1,324 were sold at six neighborhood fairs beginning in December; 864 have been purchased online since July 2014.
“We have sold 2,000 side lots. That’s 2,000 houses in the city where the homeowner is able to have a little bit more room to plant a garden, put in a fence or give themselves a bigger yard,” Duggan said. “We managed to solve the bureaucracy which used to take years.”
Duggan noted it costs the city $150 a year to mow each vacant lot; selling off 2,000 of them saves Detroit about $300,000 annually.
In another effort aimed at revitalizing vacant land, Duggan says he’s planning to ask the City Council in September to pass an ordinance that would pave the way for a land lease program. He hopes the initiative can be implemented by the fall.
Under the program, individuals would pay $25 a year for a three-year lease of vacant land bank properties in city neighborhoods. The city expects 20,000-40,000 vacant lots could be up for lease under the program, Duggan said.
To give more decision-making power to neighborhoods, Duggan said individuals seeking to lease the space would have to take plans to neighborhood associations or block clubs where the property is located and gain approval. Lots could be leased for a variety of uses, including park or garden space, off-street parking and sports.

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