| DETROIT, July 3
DETROIT, July 3 One in 10 homes in Detroit's
middle class Grandmont Rosedale neighborhood has been abandoned,
a low number for a city where about a fifth of properties are
empty, but it still troubles retiree residents Clarenda Webb and
Both joined the Grandmont Rosedale Development Corporation's
Vacant Property Task Force, formed in 2011 to protect the area
from vandals and thieves by patrolling on foot and by car.
This has become a full time, unpaid job for Webb, 70, and
Frederick, 56. With their detective work, the group takes
recalcitrant or absent property owners to court to enforce the
city's property codes.
"We work to make sure neighbors don't accept blight because
if you accept it, it gets worse," said Frederick, a former
manager at AT&T.
On the day Frederick and Webb spoke to Reuters they reported
a suspicious car in the garage of an abandoned home, which
turned out to have been stolen. Volunteers here have cultivated
relations with the understaffed police force, which have started
to pay off.
Grandmont Rosedale is among several Detroit neighborhoods
that do not fit the urban wasteland stereotype commonly
associated with the city. Even as a quarter of the city's
population left in the last decade, neighborhoods like East
English Village and Boston Edison have remained vibrant.
Detroit's fiscal crisis is so severe that Michigan's
Republican Governor Rick Snyder appointed an emergency manager,
Kevyn Orr, in March to fix its massive long-term debt problem.
In a June 14 report, Orr said the police force's manpower
has been cut by 40 percent in the past decade, and the
emergency-call response rate is more than 45 minutes above the
national average of 11 minutes.
To protect the city's pockets of strength, local volunteers
have stepped in to root out criminals or tackle absentee
"If Detroit is going to survive it will be because of areas
like this," said Marcia Closson, 74, a volunteer in North
Rosedale Park as she tended a flower bed in a local park.
The city is examining more efficient ways to serve thinly
populated areas. Orr's restructuring plan will use some savings
from cutbacks to invest in public safety in stronger areas, said
Orr's spokesman, Bill Nowling.
But community-minded residents in some of the more stable
neighborhoods refuse to wait for action.
"Any neighborhood can become a wasteland," said William
Barlage, head of East English Village Homeowner's Association on
Detroit's east side. "It takes a community to stop it."
ADOPT A HOME
Before the 2008 housing crisis, vacancies were rare in East
English Village. Homes sold for up to $260,000. But vacancies
hit 10 percent after the market collapse, and many homes now
fetch no more than $30,000.
The neighborhood's homeowners association has assigned
residents to adopt abandoned homes, cut the grass and even park
cars in driveways to make the homes look occupied. Today, 64
block captains monitor empty homes and hand out property code
citations in lieu of the city.
The Grandmont Rosedale Development Corporation has used a
variety of tools to buy, renovate and sell 27 formerly empty
homes, including federal dollars and foundation grants, said
Executive Director Tom Goddeeris.
The group also helps homeowners find financing for repairs.
"If you can't afford to fix your roof on a block with empty
homes, you may just give up," Goddeeris said. "But if we can
help fix the roof we can stabilize that home and the block."
Michigan Community Resources, which provides pro bono legal
advice to community groups, recently completed a pilot program
to help local groups catalog property code violations by small
investors who bought homes cheaply at auction but have done
nothing to renovate them or rent them out.
"Ultimately, the idea is to make it expensive for absentee
owners to neglect their properties," said Danielle Lewinski, the
group's planning director.
In Grandmont Rosedale, Webb said, local activists will
continue the fight. "The only way to get this done is to do it
ourselves," she said.
(Reporting by Nick Carey; Editing by David Greising, Frances
Kerry, Mary Milliken and Richard Chang)