Blotting Update: Detroit wants to sell you this lot for $200

Mar 13, 2012

Apparently, the phone has been ringing off the hook over at Detroit’s planning department.

It’s all because of a few lines uttered by Mayor Dave Bing in his State of the City address last week. (You’ll find them about 30 minutes in.)

“This week we sent out over 500 letters to property owners in Hubbard Farms, Springwells Village and Southwest Detroit,” he announced, “telling them if they own a home adjacent to a vacant city-owned lot, they can purchase this lot for a mere $200.”

“No coming downtown,” the mayor said.  “No added bureaucracy. The city will mail back the deed.”

Bing’s initiative is a response to the overwhelming problem of abandoned property in Detroit.

It’s a problem we explored in our stories about Detroit “blotters” — which you can see here and here.

Blotting describes what happens when homeowners annex the vacant lot, or lots, next door. They create expanded properties, between the size of a lot and a city block.

Sometimes, residents can purchase these side lots.  Often, they’re constrained by bureaucracy or money, so they may just throw up a fence to ward off the dangers of abandonment.

Many cities have programs to encourage residents to buy vacant side lots at discounted prices. 

Detroit has one too, but it’s been slow and unwieldy.  It can take years for residents to buy the lot next door.  Considering that Detroit owns tens of thousands of vacant land parcels, that wasn’t fast enough.

On Friday, hundreds of Detroiters got the letters, written in English and Spanish. The city offered to sell homeowners the vacant lot next door for $200.

This new White Picket Fence Program is basically the same as the existing adjacent lot program.  What’s different is that instead of waiting for residents to come to them, city planners targeted certain neighborhoods, pro-actively identifying eligible lots.

It’s a kind of pre-approval on the city’s part, as well as a tacit acknowledgment that many residents don’t know their options or have given up.

Greg Holman, the Special Projects Coordinator at the planning department, describes himself as someone with “a weird passion for vacant, adjacent side lots.”

He’s been watching the responses come in.

As of 12:15 pm today, he’s received 20 completed applications in the mail.

It’s just been a few days since the city’s letters went out.  It shows how interested many Detroiters are in owning and caring for the land around them.

Though the expedited side lot program targets Southwest Detroit, Bing hopes it will be replicated in other areas.

It certainly won’t solve the problem of vacancy in Detroit.

But Greg Holman sums up the prevailing spirit: “Small changes can make big waves, is my theory.”