USA - Squatters stake claim to homes abandoned or foreclosed upon
office at evnuk.org.uk
Mon Oct 20 17:07:18 BST 2008
Squatters stake claim to homes abandoned or foreclosed upon in
by Shena Abercrombie | The Flint Journal
Saturday October 18, 2008, 2:00 PM
"They're moving in, they're burning them up," said John Thomas, about
the abandoned houses lining Roanoke in Mt. Morris Twp.
MT. MORRIS TOWNSHIP, Michigan -- From the street, the tiny white
house at 3016 Roanoke looks abandoned.
The contents spill out of a garbage bag slung on the roof. The lawn
is overgrown and the window on the front door is boarded up. More
trash is strewn around the property.
It should be vacant, but former owner John Thomas is very much at
Months ago, the 53-year-old former diesel mechanic and truck driver
was ordered to leave what is now considered property of the Genesee
County Land Bank after losing the home because of tax liens.
Thomas represents the latest roadblock on the long and winding road
in the mortgage crisis vortex.
Squatters have always been around, but as the number of vacant homes
steadily mounts, more of the homeless population are taking up
residence within them.
Some, such as Thomas, are former owners or renters. Many are vagrants
who've discovered the motherload when it comes to free housing --
even if it means living with no running electricity, water or sewer
Recently in the city of Flint, a homeless man named Gordan Yoesting
died in a fire at a Jane Avenue home where he was staying illegally.
Neighbors said he'd been living in the single-story brick home with a
pet cat since December, and using candles for light because he had no
In Journal reports, friends said Yoesting was legally blind, but had
moved into the home after the owner let it go into foreclosure, and
had dreams of purchasing it in an auction next month.
Mt. Morris Township Supervisor Paul Long said he's commited to
insuring squatter deaths such as the one in Flint, don't happen in
the township. It's not easy.
Sitting in his office, he spreads a deck of Polaroid snapshots across
a conference table showing two homes on Roanoke.
Taken in June, they show the inside of Thomas' home, and a second
dwelling, just two doors down, where a squatter named Gary was living
until he recently moved in with Thomas.
At the home where Gary once stayed, there were small hills of empty
vodka bottles, a table with cigarette butts spilling onto the floor,
and large holes in the walls, according to Long's photos. There was
no running water or electricity.
Thomas' living conditions are slightly better. For now, he still has
electricity and water, but windows are broken and empty food
containers are stacked in corners and beneath tables.
"It's (happening) a lot more out there than people want to know
about," Long said.
"And where are they going to go? The shelters are full. We don't see
a whole bunch of people sleeping in the grates because they're
finding these homes."
Agreed Dan Kildee, county treasurer and head of the Land Bank: "It's
(squatting) been a problem, and it's increasing because we're getting
more structures in tax foreclosures than we've ever had before."
Thomas said he'd like to keep the home that he bought 13 years ago.
"I've been here for so long," said Thomas, sitting on his porch amid
a crop of empty cat food containers. "It's a good house. I got
He said he purchased the home for $13,000, and it took him five years
to pay it off.
But the loss of his job, a lengthy illness and an increase in
property taxes would cause him to fall behind in tax payments.
"I tried to pay them, but I think they'd rather have the house," he
said. "A lot of people are moving out of this neighborhood. There's a
lot of vacant houses. They want way too much for them."
A sister in Flushing has pleaded with him to move, Thomas said, but
he wants a place near a bus route, and worries about where Gary will
go once he's forced to leave.
Meanwhile, some streets are ripe for the picking when it comes to
vacant housing - several on Roanoke sit empty. The township, much
like its neighbor Flint, has been hit hard by the foreclosure crisis.
Dolores Perez won't let her kids play outside her Roanoke home, which
is surrounded by abandoned homes, Thomas' among them.
"These people move into the houses and stay there with no plumbing,
no floors. In back of me some wanted felons were holed up in a vacant
house. Now I close my doors and keep them locked," she said.
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