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Activists hope to mobilize victims of predatory housing deals

May 22, 2017

Wade Rathke and Diné Butler knocking on doors in Detroit
Credit Sarah Hulett / Michigan Radio

A group of housing activists hopes to organize land contract buyers in Detroit and other cities.

They spent the weekend knocking on doors and will hold a meeting at the city’s Church of the Messiah tonight.

This group has already canvassed neighborhoods in Pittsburgh, Akron and Youngstown, talking to people who bought homes on land contracts.

They found lots of folks who had no idea they'd signed deals with predatory terms that make it difficult to ever actually own the house.

"The background for most of our team is community and labor organizers,” says Wade Rathke, who founded ACORN back in the 1970s.”So we're still trying to see, is there a base at the grassroots level that's involved in these contracts on the receiving end that's willing to join together and see where they have some common issues, where they don't, and take some action."

Rathke says land contracts are a popular way for investors to sell homes in Rustbelt cities, so they figured Detroit would have many, “and sure enough, boom, we looked at Detroit and it was huge,” Rathke says.

Click here for Michigan Radio’s recent look at investor activity in Grand Rapids’ housing market

Homes sold on land contracts are often in disrepair, with buyers responsible for things like replacing furnaces and roofs. But buyers also have few legal protections, and can be evicted for missing payments – with no way to get back the money they invested.