The economic downturn has caused many Detroit residents to lose their homes. Nearly 12,300 Detroit homes faced foreclosure in 2011. As usual, county officials held auctions for almost 6,500 homes, but most of these properties didn’t find buyers, leaving Wayne County with empty homes and no one to pay for service to them. The Wayne County Treasury is now offering to allow individuals to keep their foreclosed properties for payments as low as $500. Wayne County hopes that the new plan will result in additional tax revenues for the county as well as fewer abandoned homes and displaced residents. The solution, however, is a shortsighted fix. While it will be beneficial to Detroit and its struggling residents in the short run, the city needs to implement better framework to address substantial foreclosure woes.

The Wayne County Treasury will soon begin sending representatives door-to-door to negotiate with residents of foreclosed homes. These people must provide proof of their actual residency, but won’t have to meet any other qualifications. They’ll be able to retain ownership of their homes — some for $500, the starting auction price. In return, they’ll have to allow county officials to monitor their affairs for two years to ensure they take care of homes and pay respective taxes.

It’s in Detroit’s best interest to avoid evictions while addressing vacant properties and the city’s continuing economic struggles. Forcing those who can’t afford to pay taxes to leave their homes, however, only perpetuates the cycle of poverty already gripping the city. Vacant properties remain a serious nuisance.

Abandoned homes not only become eyesores, but also sites of illicit activity. They can foster drug trade and other crimes while becoming garbage sites that breed pests and disease. Vacant properties impact the entire community, reducing its aesthetic appeal and further lowering property values of nearby homes.

Keeping homes occupied would potentially increase revenues for the city, but the plan alone isn’t enough to sustain Detroit. Selling the homes that have fallen into county ownership for a small sum is better than nothing, but certainly not much. Last November, Mayor Dave Bing predicted a deficit of up to $45 million in the upcoming year, and the city is currently working against the bankruptcy clock. Selling 6,000 homes for a starting bid of $500 will only be a drop in the enormous bucket of Detroit’s economic woes.

The policy points in the right direction: getting these properties off the city’s hands and providing places to live to those who are homeless. Bailing out residents by allowing them to re-buy their homes, however, is unfair to those who have responsibly paid taxes.

Wayne County’s plan sets a dangerous precedent for abuse of the system. Residents will have reduced incentive to retain home ownership with the knowledge the county will simply sell foreclosed properties back to the previous owners. This is toxic to a city that already has trouble collecting taxes and is in desperate need of revenue.

Wayne County’s attempted price fix to Detroit’s massive foreclosure problem is a weak patch-up. Detroit should resist resorting to mass evictions, but selling homes for small change to owners with poor track records isn’t the answer. It will only frustrate residents who do pay their taxes and encourage those who don’t to continue. Vacant properties in Detroit need to be addressed, but this policy isn’t the right solution.

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