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Opinion: It's time to demystify the process of acquiring land in the city of Detroit



As the city of Detroit exits bankruptcy, we begin a new era of opportunity. City government is functioning better and many opportunities now exist for investment in the downtown and immediately surrounding areas. Some of the previously existing barriers to investment have been removed. And now we are seeing collaborations forming to address problems that seemed insurmountable in the past.  
 
One such problem facing many residents and small organizations is the lack of understanding about how to acquire land in the city of Detroit. There are multiple barriers that must be overcome and many questions that need to be answered in the process. Questions like "Who owns it?" and "What could we do with the land after we buy it?" and "What does 'due diligence' mean?"
 
"The everyday resident, block club, or small organization often does not have access to the information and resources they need to answer these questions," says Rebecca Salminen Witt, president of The Greening of Detroit. The tales of red tape that we have all been hearing for years make the process seem daunting, and we often hear of groups purchasing property before they get important pieces of information. This can lead to big problems for new owners."
 
As we enter this new era, one thing is clear: vacant land in the city is an issue that must be addressed. Municipal agencies cannot afford to own and maintain the volume of vacant land that currently exists in the city, not to mention the vacant properties resulting from the thousands of demolitions that will occur over the next few years. While for-profit endeavors will assemble portions of the vacant land in the city, the reality is that community-driven uses will be critical. A supportive in-frastructure needs to be built.
 
To address this need, a collaboration was formed by The Greening of Detroit, Michigan Community Resources, Loveland Technologies, and the Damon J. Keith Center for Civil Rights. This collaboration has developed a series of workshops entitled "Land Forum," which are designed to demystify the process for acquiring land in the city of Detroit. "Through the Land Forum, we are providing people with a venue to share information in an effort to make the process less difficult for the average resident," says Rebecca Salminen Witt.
 
"Collectively, we bring a variety of resources to the table," says Savala Trepczynski, associate director of the Damon J. Keith Center for Civil Rights. "We provide participants with direct access to agencies that control land in the city such as the Detroit Land Bank, Wayne County Treasurer's office and the Planning of Development Department of the city of Detroit. Other resource providers cover topics such as land ownership searches, due diligence, and potential treatments for vacant land."
 
As we enter this new era, we need to build capacity for residents and organizations to own and manage property in a productive way that improves the quality of life in city neighborhoods. The forums are one step toward that goal.
 
The fourth Land Forum will be held on Tuesday, Jan. 20, 5:30-8 p.m. at Eastside Community Network (formerly Warren Connor Development Coalition), 4401 Connor St., Detroit, MI 48215.

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Jill Ferrari is CEO of Michigan Community Resources, an organization whose mission is to support and empower nonprofit community-based organizations working in low-income communities, with an emphasis on community and economic development, by providing pro bono legal services and technical assistance.
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