One Detroit Neighborhood Actively Looking For Squatters

(Google Maps)

(Google Maps)

Some neighborhood groups would look at squatters — people who live rent-free in vacant buildings — as a negative to be shooed away in favor of paying tenants. But the folks in one part of Detroit would rather have squatters occupying the empty homes in their area than see these buildings stripped or burned to the ground.

The Detroit News has the story of an effort by the Northwest Brightmoor Renaissance neighborhood group to get decent people into empty homes, even if they are violating state law by squatting.

“We want squatters,” the group’s co-founder, Jennifer Mergos, explains. “There’s so much abandonment here, we need them to turn the neighborhood around.”

According to the News, at least 350 homes in this area have some sort of fire damage, and the 1-in-3 homes that sit vacant are being stripped of materials by scavengers.

Mergos points to a 95-year-old abandoned farmhouse that currently sits empty as an example of a property that could be lost forever to flames or vandals — resulting in more blight for an already troubled city.

“The neighborhood is rallying around this house because it’s a tipping point to stop the continued destruction that’s happened around here,” she explains.

And Mergos speaks from experience. She purchased a home two doors down from this farmhouse at auction in 2013. It’s been set on fire twice since. So she turned the land into a community garden. When that came under attack from vandals, she installed beehives as a deterrent.

“I’m trying to bring something positive to the neighborhood,” she explains about the neighborhood she grew up in. “There’s nothing to do now and nowhere to go, so lighting homes on fire is the entertainment.”

Even though squatting is a crime in Michigan that could land someone in jail for up to two years, Riet Schumack, co-founder of Neighbors Building Brightmoor — a group that maintains some 200 properties — points out that neighbors in the area are already breaking the law by trespassing in order to trim lawns or board up windows and doors.

“It’s not black and white,” says Schumack. “You want someone in the house when it’s still functioning. Otherwise, it will be destroyed in 24 hours.”

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