USA - Squatters stake claim to homes abandoned or foreclosed upon

Gerrard Winstanley office at
Mon Oct 20 17:07:18 BST 2008

Squatters stake claim to homes abandoned or foreclosed upon in 
Genesee County
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 
running water."

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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