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County Officials Giving Away Detroit Homes For $500; Taxes Must Be Delinquent

DETROIT (WWJ/AP) - Wayne County will send people door-to-door to offer thousands of foreclosed Detroit homes for as little as $500, a move that would keep a roof overhead for occupants and possibly get properties back on the tax rolls.

More than 6,000 Detroit homes, foreclosed because taxes weren't paid, didn't sell at auction last fall. The county treasurer's office doesn't want to see them abandoned and is willing to negotiate with anyone living inside, including owners who no longer have a right to the property.

Wayne County Deputy Treasurer Eric Sabree told WWJ's Sandra McNeil representatives from his office will make the offer on thousands of delinquent properties.

"A person must prove to us that they are bonafide residents who unfortunately, I am presuming, have been paying their rent to somebody who apparently didn't pay their delinquent taxes," Sabree said.

Sabree said there are a number of ways people can prove residence.

"Not only through an authorized state identification card or a driver's license, a cable ... a utility bill -- anything of those sorts are reviewed and then a determination is made and a offer to those individuals," he said.

Sabree said the residents must agree to be monitored for two years to make sure they keep up the property and the taxes on the house. He said it's a way to stop blight.

"A vacant house is not going to help anybody," he told The Detroit News.

Charles Brown, 62, said he's been squatting in his home for about a year. He said he installed windows and doors and uses the fireplace for heat.  "I am still doing a lot of work," Brown said. "It would mean a lot if I could keep it."

A neighbor who rents, Freda Armstrong, said she would have purchased Brown's house at auction.

"That is a brick house. I would have fixed it up," she said. "A lot of people don't even know these houses are for sale."

A similar program last year led to the sale of 1,200 homes. The city of Detroit isn't endorsing what county tax officials are doing with the real estate. Ed McNeil, who negotiates labor contracts for union-represented city employees, said it seems unfair to reward people when someone in the same neighborhood may never have missed a tax bill.    Indeed, retiree George Philson, 63, pays $1,800 a year.

"I would rather have them meet their obligation like I am meeting my obligation," he said.

John Mogk, a Wayne State University law professor who studies land issues, said 12,300 Detroit parcels were foreclosed because of unpaid taxes last year.    "There is no end in sight," Mogk said. "The problem is just so large and overwhelming in Detroit."

The county's offer could keep Durand and Sharon Micheau in their bungalow, which was purchased in 2010. They lost it because they couldn't pay three years of unpaid taxes, fines and interest of $17,900.

"We are not looking to dodge our responsibility," said Durand, 42. "If I could pay the taxes right now, I would, but I don't have the money."

(TM and © Copyright 2011 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2011 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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