Stealing the Brooks Family Home: A Story of the Wayne County Landbank and Vulture Developer FPJ

Since 1996, I have owned a property in the New Center area 1161 & 1163 Seward Detroit Mi 48202 (district 2).  I have owned it for 22 years.   It is a 4-family unit, initially purchased as a primary residence in 1996 from my father.  It is no longer my primary residence, but has been occupied for the past 3 years by 2 of my sons and Mr. Brooks (co owner).  

It was foreclosed on for 2015 taxes for roughly $1065.00 June 8, 2018. (There was interest included so I am not sure of the exact amount).  My base tax for 2015 is $906.31  (not including interest and penalties of about $598) .  I paid $492.00 towards my stipulated payment agreement but missed some payments due to a death in the family and repairs that were needed to the property.   I later found out I was approx. $150 short of being at 60%  of the amount due, which would have prevented foreclosure.   To my own detriment, I did not realize the home was foreclosed until I went to make a payment on my taxes in August 2018 and was denied the ability to do so because of the foreclosure.  I was still doing maintenance of $790.00 on the property on 6/29/18 . 

If I had understood I was in foreclosure, I would have put the money on the taxes instead and did the repairs afterward.   The property is worth over $100,000.  Wayne County Land Bank exercised a Right of Refusal, bought it from the treasurer, and sold it to one of the popular investors FPJ Investments LLC in a bundle with 3 other properties, ALL 4 for $26K.   I say popular investor because I read a news article from 2017 Free Press regarding the Land Bank and favoritism with certain investors, in particular with FPJ Investments LLC.  (see article here) . 

We originally started falling behind on taxes in 2010 primarily due to job loss (loss of income). That, along with water bills rolling over to taxes made it more challenging to pay.  Ironically the property/assessments had decreased from previous years yet the property tax had almost doubled.  In 2015 the property tax rate was 17% of my assessed value.   Making it very hard to pay with the low income bracket I was in. My household income in 2015 was approx. 23K with a  family of 4.  This was more than we had made the previous 2 years.  Nevertheless, I was able to enroll in stipulated payment agreements offered by the treasurer. I filed bankruptcy in 2013 which ultimately moved me to being 3 years behind once the bankruptcy was discharged in 2014.  I diligently entered payment agreements trying to catch up a little more each year. In 2017 I paid off 2013 & 2014 property taxes.  Within days of successfully fulfilling the 2017 payment agreement, a letter for ‘show cause hearing’ was drafted regarding 2015 taxes. I did not receive the letter right away because it was sent to an old address of 8 years ago but it was eventually mailed to my primary resident. I entered a payment agreement Jan. 12, 2018.  This turned out to be 2 days after the show cause hearing was held.  Coincidently No one at the foreclosed property was ever served with a notice of show cause hearing or foreclosure.  Per the treasurer office they just need to put something on the door, that is all that was required.   

My first view of the show cause letter was in January 2018, after I had already entered the payment agreement.  I am not sure who signed for.  According to the FOIA documents, it was mailed o my primary resident some time in December 2017.  I assumed it was my youngest son who signed (not one of the residents) but he says it was not him.  I don’t recognize the name or signature.   It pretty much says at the top that you can ignore if you were 1) in a payment agreement, 2) paid all of 2015 taxes or 3) had filed bankruptcy.  I felt I was okay because I had already entered a payment agreement.  I did not realize I was still in danger of losing the property.   I missed some payments when my mother in-law passed Feb. 3rd.  (I had missed payments on previous agreements but would always catch up before 10/31 of that year.  I doubled up payments in April, I missed a May payment and June 8th they foreclosed for 2015 taxes.  I recently learned there was a lawsuit that allowed some low income residents who lost their property to 2015 taxes to buy their property back.  Unfortunately the suit settled in July 2018 before I even knew my property had been foreclosed.   

Despite the lawsuits between ACLU vs City of Detroit, and the City admitting that 2015 property assessments were over assessed, no one ever notified me or attempted to make any adjustments to my property taxes for that year.  Property values were decreasing yet the property taxes rates were increasing.  The assessed value of my property in 2015 was $5100 and my property tax was 961.31 (17%).  If they were assessed properly it would have been more affordable.  I would still have my property.  I don’t feel anyone should have lost their property for 2015 taxes since they were not assessed correctly. 

When I learned of the foreclosure in August,  I immediately went to the register of deeds & got a copy of the deed.  The property was still in my name, but I was not allowed to pay.  I was informed I had to speak to the Wayne County Land Bank (WCLB).  I went to the Guardian building and was told I had to have an appointment to meet with someone.  I did speak on the phone with Mr. Rosenbaum while I was in the lobby and was told they were waiting to find out if the Action Before Auction program would be approved.  If approved they had programs to help residents buy back the property.

I begin to research the Wayne County Land Bank (WCLB) website and the information regarding the Action Before Auction program.     It sounded GREAT! and gave me hope.  It says they work with owner occupied, renters and even squatters to become successful home owners when possible.  They offer opportunity for the occupied owner (which could be the owner or relative of the owner according to the AB4A program) to buy back their property for the cost of  (minimum bid) back taxes + $500.00 after the NON-Profit Investor invests $25K into the property.  The non profit Investor gets to write off the improvements on taxes. 

Unfortunately we have been informed that no one qualifies to buyback the property.  If it were a single family home they would be eligible.  22 years and property equity gone down the drain, and handed over to FPJ.

FPJ Investment (James (Jim) Budziak)  has stated to Mr Brooks that his partner does not want to sell the property.  I spoke to Mr Rosenbaum of WCLB who communicated that that WCLB can not force the owner to sell back to me.  When I spoke to Melissa Palepu of the Wayne County Land bank.  I asked if I offered FPJ 15K (about 5 times what he paid for the property), COULD HE (if he wanted to) sell me the property back?  She said ‘NO, I’m sorry that would not be an option for this property.  She said FPJ could sell at the conclusion of the contract with them, (WCLB) so long as they complete all of their obligations, by investing the $25K. ”   (even though page 24 of the RFQ says the blight repairs can be waived if the property is sold back to and eligible occupant) .  Page 51 of the 2018 RFQ has a sample Purchase Agreement which defines an Eligible occupant as 1) Eligible renter 2) Eligible prior owner.  (Eligible prior owner is the previous owner or family member of previous owner. See section 1.06 – 1.07). 

 I researched the requirements on the internet for becoming one of the participating Investors of the (RFQ) Action Before Auction Program .  Page 8 section 1.14  spells out conflict of interest., stating Qualifying Investors cannot be employed by or related to an employee, who works for WCLB, Wayne County, or Wayne County Treasurer.   According to the State of Michigan LARA website, FPJ Investments LLC  has Matthew Schenk listed as ‘RESIDENT’.  Matthew Schenk is an ex Assistant Wayne County Executive, Ex Wayne county chief of staff who was able to retire early from Wayne County to collect at 96K pension per year.  He at one point had 2000 Wayne County staff reporting to him.  In addition, according to a 2009 Crains article written by Nancy Kaffer speaks of Mr. Schenk’s appointment as Chief of Staff.  It also states he was instrumental in the development of the Wayne County Land Bank.  He has not been employed by Wayne County since 2012 but, clearly he seems to have ties.  I am not sure if he is the other partner in FPJ Investments LLC but there is an association.

WCLB & the FPJ (Jim) lead us to believe there was a POSSIBILITY that my sons & the tenants could buy the property back. When my son Jalin asked (Jim) about buying the property, the response was  “Maybe, but Why you and not one of the other tenants Joe?”  When my son Jaloni asked Melissa P. of WCLB if he could buy the property back, her response was “It would not be fair if one tenant was allowed to buy it and not the other”.   I even inquired if all the residents wanted to buy the property how would they go about doing so.  Melissa Palepu then said it was not likely for this property.  Melissa Palepu of the WCLB later sent an email to the tenants stating…. “As I have stated numerous times, no one will be eligible to purchase this property.”   That was a heavy blow to the heart.  Twenty two years, our first investment to something we planned to help our children in the years to come.  With all the individuals that live in the property, no one is eligible to buy the property.  #1) per Melissa Palepu of WCLB says who ever buys back the property ‘CAN’T make a profit”.  Since the property is NOT a single family home it does not qualify for a buy back.  (She even referred to it as an apartment complex using a play on words).

The residents were told not to pay rent initially.  Recently some were notified that they will be asked to start paying rent in February (but they have not been told how much).  The other option is to move by the end of February and they (FPJ) will pay whoever is considered an “Eligible Occupant” 3000 – 5000 dollars to find another place to live.   If they choose to stay, he will only renew their lease for 1 more year. and they will need to move. This has all been verbal, nothing in writing.  Two of the residents work within 5-10 minutes of their jobs and don’t want to move.  One tenant Joe, does not have transportation and he is allowed to rent the bikes from outside Henry Ford Hospital so he can ride to work each day.  This can be a problem for him getting to and from work if he has to move or if the rent is raise from $550 to some high rental rate that he may not be able to afford.   My son Jalin works 2 jobs and both are within about a 5 minute drive (in mid town). They Love where they live.  I am all for diversity in a community, but it should happen organically and not by forcing individuals out of the community.  I have watched  2 other black families lose their property on my street and their homes have been purchased by white owners and they raise the rent to $1400-1500 and move white resident, limiting only persons with a certain economic stature to live there.  The house next door to me (another 4-family) was not foreclosed but sold for $205K last year.  The new owner is white, she asked the residents who lived there at the time to move, she paid them a designated amount+ their security deposit to move.  She lives in one unit and so far she has only moved in people that look like her in the other units.  

 Some Things you should know:

•WCLB Melissa Palepu is implying that the tenant provided fraudulent information because 1) one of the rental receipts had the wrong year on the receipt  2) all the rent receipts appear to be written with the same penmanship and all at the same time    3) all receipts were written with the same color ink.  WCLB was provided DTE bills from the tenants, lease agreements and rent receipts from the tenants and copy of DL.  This was all required for WCLB to establish eligible occupants. 

  • My communication with the tenants and my sons were often via text such as below. Some payment were through CashApp. So receipts were provided during tax season.

I left the rent on the Mantel.    I left the rent in the closet. .  I got the rent etc. 

  • I provided physical rent receipts in the beginning of each year. So they could use for income tax purposes.  Some of the receipts she received were absolutely written out at the same time, by the same person, with the same ink pen. One receipts provided to the tenant did have the wrong year.  The receipt for October of 2017, was written early 2018.  It had 2018 as the year which was inaccurate.  (That does not make it fraudulent)

No one should lose a house worth over $100,000  for one thousand dollars.  It would be different if I has not making any effort to keep my property, but that is not the case.   I am not some greedy landlord.  I consider this a family home.  Three of my 4 children were born while I lived in this house.  I only charge $550/month for rent.  I never had a complaint against me. Ultimately, they will raise the rent, making it unaffordable for the current residents.  Limiting what types of person can afford to live there in the community.  I have watched the neighborhood change already.  It looks different now.  Other landlords on the block are renting their properties for $1400/month.  That is not what I have been about.

I have heard Mike Duggan and Eric Sabree say how they want to work with homeowners. keep tenants in their home, even help tenants become homeowners.  It is obvious WCLB does NOT care about the people in the community. I don’t know what profit the WCLB is making but they certainly are hard core at helping FPJ Investments.  I later found out his name is Jim Budziak who is a Real Estate Agent for ReMax in Warren, MI.

This “Action Before Auction Program” is not for the people,  It is for the investors.  They are Greedy investors who just care about making a profit.  Please help me with this matter.  There is no telling how many more persons are being treated like they just don’t matter.  Investors are in this community like vultures right now. I was here sticking it out when the area was not thriving.  4-5 years ago, if you googled the property it was only work $12K,  now Zillow says it is worth $95K., Realty Trac says its worth $361,000 , website says it is worth $473,000, Remax says it is worth $139,000. The numbers are all over the place.   

These are my questions:

  1. Why was WCLB able to exercise a right of refusal when the base tax amount is under $1000. I have equity in my home, do I lose that too?
  2. If the Action before Auction program is only for Single family homes, how was this property included if it is a multi-family \ Mix Occupancy home. (all the documentation I see has one address number when it should be two.  1161 & 1163 Seward.  (did someone try to portray this as a single family home at some point?)
  3. If a property is considered blighted shouldn’t there be tickets or give the owner a chance to correct (I don’t know that this is the case for me)
  4. What is the guideline for exercising a right of refusal? 
  5. When an owner is actively making effort to keep their home, the treasure should continue to work with them when possible.
  6. I entered a new payment agreement 1/11/18.  A certificate of Redeemption was issued for 2014 on Jan. 12, 2018.  Yet there was still an actIve foreclosure. I  am confused as to how this can happen. 
  7. I don’t see anywhere in the RFQ/Action Before Auction stating that a muli-unit home is excluded from buyback opportunities.
  8. Family of the owner are classified as “eligible pre-owner occupants’.  why cant my sons buy back the property. 
  9. I along with my son requested a copy of the “Residency Offer” from the WCLB.  This was suppose to be a formal written document provided by the owner to the WCLB & the occupants letting them know what options they have for housing.  but it  has only been verbally communicated to 2 of the residents.  WCLB Melissa who is overseeing this  program says she does not know, she will need to reach out to the owner to get the answer.  But,  this is information that should have already been provided to the WCLB. 
  10. My first conversation with Melissa P of the WCLB I advised her that Mr Brooks and my sons resided on the property along with another family/tenant that lived upstairs.  After telling me if the property is owner occupied they MUST work with you & sell the property back for the back taxes + $500.  She informed me that my situation was a little unique and directed me to contact the investor as it he had the answers regarding the program and how it would work.  I believe ‘unique’ meant not a single family home.   Weeks later she came back stating I lead her to believe it was a single family home and that the buy back person can not make a profit. 
  11. How do we request a FOIA?

 Charemon Brooks