Forums aim to help Detroiters become property owners

land forum 6Detroit has more than 20 square miles of vacant land within its 139-square-mile area. There has been plenty of discussion about the demolition of vacant houses and buildings in the city, but not much about the vacant lots that occupy most neighborhoods. Much of the prime real estate in downtown Detroit and outer-ring communities such as Midtown, Corktown and Lafayette Park is being redeveloped and sold at a premium, but plenty of vacant space exists throughout the city.
Community groups and individual Detroiters have been stewarding the vacant lots in their neighborhoods for years. Many are interested in purchasing them but don’t know how to go about it, or don’t have the resources needed to get the ball rolling. Others have tried repeatedly to purchase lots they “adopted” long ago, but to no avail; red tape makes the process frustrating and difficult.
The bottom line is that there is no clearly defined process for purchasing land in Detroit — yet.
Figuring out how to expeditiously acquire vacant lots will help stabilize neighborhoods throughout the city. Getting answers to questions like “who owns the lot?” or “what can this property be used for?” will provide Detroit residents with the opportunity to transform their city by acquiring and re-purposing vacant land in ways that improve the quality of life in city neighborhoods.
But buying land in Detroit is about more than just transforming how city blocks look and feel. Owning land is foundational to building inter-generational wealth. Owning land stimulates economic agency by allowing Detroiters to participate in grants and business development available only to land owners.
And increasing the number of Detroiters who hold title to land increases the city’s claim to being, once more, the arsenal of democracy; after all, one way to democratize any institution, including a city, is to distribute its surplus. Add to the mix Detroit’s under-served (and largely nonwhite) population, and creating a system of land ownership that works for all becomes even more compelling.
Help for novices 
Last year, a new collaborative of organizations created a series of informational Land Forums designed to remove the barriers that make buying land so difficult for everyday Detroiters. Land Forum is providing the clear information and resources Detroiters need if we are going to develop a holistic, intelligent and inclusive approach to repurposing land in Detroit’s neighborhoods.
The founding coalition members include Wayne State Law’s Damon J. Keith Center for Civil Rights, Wayne Law’s Program for Entrepreneurship and Business Law, Michigan Community Resources, Loveland Technologies and the Greening of Detroit.
These organizations bring a wide variety of resources to the table and provide participants with direct access to agencies that control land in the city, such as the Detroit Land Bank, the Wayne County Treasurer’s Office and the city’s Planning and Development Department.
Other resource providers cover topics that all land buyers should consider, such as due diligence and potential treatments for vacant land. Attendees can also conduct real-time land ownership searches on site. When the city launches its plan to sell vacant land to Detroit residents, Land Forum hopes to have helped create a cohort of buyers who are ready, willing and able to make informed land-buying decisions and who are well-equipped to be responsible stewards of the land they purchase.
The fifth Land Forum will be held 5:30-8 p.m. today at Focus: HOPE, 1400 Oakman Blvd., third floor. Attendance is free and open to the public.
Rebecca Salminen Witt is president of the Greening of Detroit. Savala N. Trepczynski is the associate director of the Damon J. Keith Center for Civil Rights, director of the Damon J. Keith Collection of African-American Legal History and an adjunct professor at the Wayne State University Law School.

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