A program designed to clean up blight in Detroit is also keeping a lot of potentially great homes off the market. Detroit created a “land bank” many years ago, to deal with vast numbers of foreclosed and vacant homes. The Detroit Land Bank is selling them off, but according to Bridge News, the city isn’t selling them fast enough and is now the owner of a massive number of properties.
Bridge News reports there are 43,576 vacant single-family homes in Detroit and the land bank owns 68% of them, through tax foreclosures. It cites a few examples saying that the land bank has title to 371 properties in the East Village neighborhood but doesn’t have any of them listed on its Building Detroit website. In the Brightmoor neighborhood, the land bank reportedly owns more than 13,000 properties, and has listed just eight of them. 
Massive Land Bank Project
Land bank executive director Saskia Thompson told Bridge News, they have a “pretty sophisticated data team” getting those homes listed for would-be buyers, but the size of the project is “daunting.” She says if you combine the number of homes with the number of vacant lots, the land bank owns more like 95,000 properties.
She said, “People say to us ‘you aren’t putting them up for sale fast enough,’ but there is nothing that we can see in the market there that actually tells us that we are doing this too slowly. I would say it’s the opposite. In some parts of the city, we are 75 percent of all the market activity.”
A Detroit resident who’s looking for a home as a future owner-occupant says it’s frustrating to deal with the land bank. William Gill says he wants to buy a fixer upper in the North Campau neighborhood. That’s near where he works, and where his kids go to daycare. He told Bridge News that he’s been looking for almost two years, but most of the homes are owned by the land bank, and they are not yet listed for sale.
Frustratingly Slow Process
The land bank says it will sell homes that are not listed yet on the website, but Thompson admits that the process is slow. She says she is trying to get phone operators to be more responsive. Gill agrees. He says repeated phone calls to the land bank have not produced results.
Some housing advocates say it’s not clear how the land bank decides which homes to put up for sale. That’s led to some distrust of the land bank, but Thompson says the land bank does not have a secret agenda. They just want to help improve neighborhoods. She said, “We own so much land we have a very unique opportunity to use that land in a strategic way to bring back neighborhoods, maybe not to their former glory but to long term sustainability.”
Fulfilling a Mission
Thompson says the agency is also trying to fulfill a mission, to make sure that vacant and deteriorating homes are fixed up, sold, and don’t go into foreclosure again. She says homes can’t be sold too quickly, to prevent the repeat of a situation they are trying to resolve now.
Buyers must meet stringent requirements that are listed on the land bank website. The city must also make sure they are followed which also adds to the complexity of the project. Among the rules, that the property is brought up to code and occupied within six months, but there are plenty of other rules as well.
Thompson said, she’d like to increase the rate of sales next year. The agency is selling about 150 homes a month now. The goal for next year is about 200 homes per month.