Geraldine Smith-Bey came to Detroit Eviction Defense asking if we could help her secure title to the home she has been living in for almost 20 years. Located on the east side of Detroit in the East Village, part of “Islandview and the Greater Villages,” the home originally belonged to Geraldine’s grandmother, who passed it down to her mother and then to her. However, due to over-taxation, in 2015 Geraldine lost the house to the city for only $1,211. Storehouse of Hope bought the house to be part of a community land trust and offered to allow Geraldine and her sons to continue living there. She would pay a minimal rent and, with their help, she’d be able to own the home down the road. She said her relationship with the organization had deteriorated and back taxes on her home now stand at almost $3,000. The city has placed a notice of foreclosure on her home. Major repairs have also not been completed, leaving the house in a dangerous condition.
We support Black homeownership, and note that this is particularly important when it involves the generational ties such as in Geraldine Smith-Bey’s case. Therefore we were encouraged when a mediation meeting was set up earlier this month, and agreed to send a representative. When the meeting was called off by Joan Ross the day before, we saw that as a setback. DED had previously attempted to contact Storehouse of Hope and when our calls and emails went unanswered, sent Rev. Joan Ross, director of the organization, a registered letter.
On February 11 we received an email from an attorney who calls on DED to “cease and desist,” this letter is below. We still believe the way to resolve this problem is for Storehouse of Hope to provide Geraldine Smith-Bey with the deed to her home.
Geraldine owned her home from 2003 to 2015. It was bought in 2015 by the Storehouse of Hope Community Land Trust from the Tax Auction. Storehouse of Hope, run by Reverend Joan C. Ross has not paid the property taxes or completed promised repairs. Unless something is done the house will be sold in the 2021 tax auction. The Storehouse of Hope failed to function as a Community Land Trust and should return the home to Geraldine.
Geraldine’s is just one story as part of the massive wave of tax foreclosures that displaced people and opened up Detroit to further speculation and slumlords. Wayne County failed by foreclosing on Geraldine. The Detroit Land Bank failed by selling the property for $1,211 rather than handing it back to Geraldine.
What Geraldine wants is simple. Storehouse of Hope needs to deed the home to Geraldine at no cost to her. Wayne County and the Land Bank need to help make this happen and wipe the back taxes owed by Storehouse of Hope. Storehouse of Hope must also compensate Geraldine for the major repairs they have failed to do. This won’t make up for all of the failures at every level but it will Keep Geraldine in her home.
Geraldine has been in her home on Fischer st in Detroit since 2003. Like many Black families in Detroit, her home was passed down intergenerationally. Her grandmother had owned the home, and her mom left her the home before she passed away in 2004. Geraldine took pride in her house, and raised her 3 sons here. In 2009, she fell on hard times and got behind on property taxes. Geraldine took steps to try to stay in her home, including getting into a payment plan. As many people know, a lot of those payment plans are made to fail, and countless Detroit homes were over taxed.
Geraldine’s home went into tax foreclosure and was lost to the Detroit Land Bank in 2015. The land bank sold her home to the Storehouse of Hope Community Land Trust (CLT) for $1,211. The land trust bought properties from the Land Bank that year with 13 of the properties costing a total of $75,213 (there may be two additional properties that they bought that year).
The Storehouse of Hope CLT contacted Geraldine, letting her know they had bought her property. Initially this seemed to be very positive, Storehouse of Hope promised to keep her in her home as part of a new Community Land Trust Program. Storehouse of Hope’s program stated:
“one to three years, families will pay rent equal to one-third of their incomes, while Storehouse of Hope assumes the cost of repairs, property taxes, insurance, and water bills. Storehouse of Hope will help members interested in repurchasing their homes develop stronger credit so they can obtain mortgages.”
This program is not how community land trusts generally function. People are not tenants who are paying rent in CLTs, they normally own the deed to their home. It is the land that is held by the trust. That allows more flexibility and building of generational wealth.
Geraldine’s initial optimism about the program did not last long. She served as a representative of the families on the Storehouse of Hope governing board. Storehouse of Hope explains:
“each participating family whose home is secured through the land trust will also make a commitment to playing an active role in Detroit’s housing rights movement and the #Homes4All Campaign.”
After Geraldine raised concerns about repair issues and how Grant money was being used, the board was dismantled and her questions unanswered.
Storehouse of Hope has refused to do basic and vital maintenance to the property, leaving Geraldine to make the repairs herself. They promised to allow her to purchase back her home, which has never happened. In the past year they have stopped paying the water bill, though they had agreed to. The Storehouse of Hope has not paid the taxes and are about to lose the home to tax foreclosure. Geraldine is again, in jeopardy of losing her home.
Storehouse of Hope’s website describes that it purchased 15 houses from the 2015 auction, but it is difficult to find information and a clear picture of the current situation. The phone number listed on their website goes to voicemail and has been unreachable, and their most recent updates are from 2017. Out of the three blog posts on their website, two of the posts have the same date of December 27, 2018 and have conflicting information. One post that “five of the families out of the 15 homes purchased choose not to remain,” and another post with the same date claims, “today, we own 15 properties of these 8 are currently occupied.” We could find 13 homes that Storehouse of Hope bought in the auction. According to Landgrid’s website (that was updated last March), 12 out of 13 houses that Storehouse of Hope bought were delinquent for their 2019 property taxes, and many of the houses were also delinquent in 2017 and 2018. Landgrid shows that the one home that was not behind on their taxes was sold to Indumich Realty LLC, which is a company that has been to court over its speculative and slumlord practices.
The housing crisis in Detroit has been overwhelming for residents and for housing advocates and activists. Activists and advocacy groups are not perfect and will make mistakes; but it is essential that these groups are transparent, own their mistakes, and learn from them. Activists and housing advocates should not perpetuate dishonesty and displacement. We are calling for full transparency and for the promises that Storehouse of Hope made to Geraldine and all of the families to be fulfilled.