A Detroit program allowing people to move into abandoned homes? - DC News FOX 5 DC WTTG

A Detroit program allowing people to move into abandoned homes?

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By Taryn Asher
FOX 2 News Reporter


DETROIT --
We've discovered many desperate people are moving into abandoned homes because there is a coalition out there led by a familiar face telling them there is a Detroit program in place that allows this to happen.

"I jumped right on it, like wonderful, because there (are) a lot of abandoned homes around here and I was interested," said Joy Galloway.

A few months ago, Galloway (pictured above) learned of a program that gives welfare mothers and veterans a chance to own one of the more than 70,000 abandoned homes that have overtaken Detroit streets.  Fix one up and eventually it's yours.

She said the Michigan Welfare Rights Organization and the Housing is a Human Right Coalition helped her find an abandoned property on Collingham in Detroit.

"I really wanted that house.  My kids, we had planned a future in that house," Galloway said.

She said she attended the required meetings, went through the vetting process, filled out the proper paperwork and put her last $1,300 into the house to make it livable for her and her three children.  She had new windows and locks installed and even painted the place.  Galloway has the receipts to show for it.

"Went back for the painter to do the second coat on the walls and the house was boarded up, and... the majority of my things (were) thrown out," she said.

Galloway found out the house was not abandoned.  It was actually owned by The Detroit Land Bank Authority.

"I bust into tears because at the time I was about to be homeless.  I was about to be evicted and needed somewhere to go, and I was planning on staying (in) that home with my three kids," she said.

Galloway isn't alone.  The same thing happened to Stephanie Johnson, who claimed she went through the same process and as soon as she was about to move into a house on Roxbury, she found out it belonged to someone else.

"Some company there said that some man owned the house, and I said, 'Oh my god, no.'  I'm in a shock.  I have eight kids," she said.

They both claimed they were told this was all possible because of Detroit's nuisance abatement ordinance and the city's repair to own program, but FOX 2 has learned they don't exist.

"Who told me to go into these homes?  Maureen Taylor," said Galloway.

But that hasn't stopped Taylor, who is chair of the Michigan Welfare Rights Organization.

"Currently you're moving families into these abandoned homes," I asked.

"Right now, right now.  We've been doing it since April," Taylor replied.

She claimed, so far, they've moved about 100 welfare families into abandoned homes and 400 more are on the waiting list.

"I just talked to the city.  These programs do not exist right now.  The nuisance and abatement program was eliminated two years ago.  There's nothing legal right now that allows this to happen," I told Taylor.

"If I could have you come by the office... I will show you the Detroit City Council resolutions signed by city council members and the mayor," she answered.

Taylor showed me a resolution.  City council members supported her mission at a meeting back in July.  A resolution that encourages the city to come up with a solution, but we're told by no means did it give Taylor and her coalition the green light or legal right to move forward.  They don't have the power.  Only the mayor does, and according to Marja Winters, who is the deputy director of Detroit's Planning and Development Department, there is nothing on the books right now that allows this to happen.

"It is illegal, yes," she said.  "It's my understanding from the last meeting that we said while we're working together, would you all agree to not put any more people illegally into houses and they agreed to do that, so if we find out that's not the case, then the city will act accordingly."

The program looks legit because we discovered Taylor and her coalition are using old City of Detroit forms to make it look official.

"I did communicate to her that the documents that they were using are misleading to the public because it gives the impression that there is a nuisance abatement program of which there isn't, and it also gives applicants the impression that the city is on board with their program, which we're not," Winters said.

She told us the city and the coalition are currently working together to come up with a new program that would put city owned abandoned houses to use, but she fears desperate Detroit residents are getting the wrong idea.  In fact, remember Missionary-Tracey Elaine Blair, the alleged squatter who moved into Heidi Peterson's Detroit house while she was away for a year?  Blair claimed the house was abandoned and tried to get the property put in her name.

"Because when she abandoned it, it became a neighborhood nuisance, then that's when I went to court and filed this complaint," said Blair.

"But she bought the house in full.  She didn't abandon it," I remarked.

"She wasn't here.  The house was empty," Blair countered.

"She owns it, but she didn't abandon it," I said.

"A house is abandoned when the grass is up real high," she answered.

Galloway claims she saw Missionary Blair at the same meeting she attended held at the Welfare Rights Organization headquarters.

"She knew what to do because she was in this program.  That's why she was in that lady's house," said Galloway.

"You're helping people move into these homes," I told Taylor.

"Abandoned houses that do not belong to individuals," she replied.

"But the problem is some of these do and these women are ending up out on the street," I explained.

"I'm telling you that you're information is incorrect.  These are abandoned houses that do not belong to anybody but me," she remarked.

But what about Joy Galloway and Stephanie Johnson?  Their residency agreements came from Taylor's organization and coalition.

"We do not know Joy Galloway," said Taylor.

Stephanie Johnson?

"No.  We don't have anything bad to say about them because the activity that they're involved in is correct."

Now these two women are worse off than they were before, duped by programs that don't exist, putting their last pennies into homes that are owned by someone else.

"I'm thinking everything is legal.  I wouldn't even have got into (the) program if it was like that," Johnson said.

"It's pitiful.  I feel bamboozled," said Galloway.

Maureen Taylor later told us Joy Galloway was part of her program and admitted they dropped the ball. She said they plan to make it right for her. She still claimed she doesn't know Stephanie Johnson.

Taylor said she is still moving people into homes she claims are city owned because she feels it's illegal to have women, children and veterans living on the streets.

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