Land Bank partnership helps struggling families keep their homes

June 8th, 2018
Andrea Sweeney on the porch of her family home in southwest Detroit.

After her mother suffered a debilitating stroke five years ago, Andrea Sweeney moved into her mother’s home to care for her.

The home is located close to where I-96 and I-94 cross in southwest Detroit. Many of the houses in the area have been torn down, and many that remain have fallen into disrepair. The Sweeney home could use some fixing up, but it is habitable. It has been in the family since Andrea’s grandmother bought it in the 1940s.

“The neighborhood is not like it used to be when I grew up here, but it’s still home and where we need to be,” Andrea  said.

As she began looking after her mother, Andrea came to realize that her mother had failed to pay the property taxes for years. Andrea then made a partial payment toward the back taxes, but the delinquency was too severe, and the Detroit Land Bank Authority took ownership. Andrea feared that she and her mother would be evicted.

“It was pretty terrifying and I worried about where we would go,” Andrea said. “Fortunately, the Land Bank gave us an option about getting the home back. It was a godsend.”

The option offered by the Land Bank is the called the Occupied Buy Back Program. The program, which began in 2016, allows the occupant in a home owned by the Land Bank through tax foreclosure to acquire the home by fulfilling certain requirements. Those include paying a $1,000 purchase price to the Land Bank, and then depositing $100 a month in a special escrow account for one year to cover the property tax bill, as well as maintaining the property and staying current on utility and water bills. The occupant must also complete a home preservation course with a nonprofit partner working with the Land Bank to implement the Buy Back Program.

Southwest Solutions is one of the nonprofit partners, and our home preservation course, which Andrea attended, is run by Kathy Ralston. To date, we have helped 27 families get their property deeds through the program, and many others, like Andrea, are in the process.

Andrea recently paid the $1,000 purchase price and has made arrangements for the monthly escrow payments. She is confident that the home will be back in her family’s possession next summer.

Andrea shows some of the jewelry pieces she has made.

After coming to Southwest Solutions because of the Buy Back Program, Andrea decided to take advantage of other programs offered by the organization to help individuals achieve financial success. She enrolled in our ProsperUS Detroit small business training program last fall and graduated. Andrea makes jewelry. She has sold a number of pieces to members of her church, and she hopes to expand her business to supplement her income.

“The knowledge and advice I gained from ProsperUS has been valuable,” Andrea said. “Because of my mom’s condition, I can’t work full-time right now. So if I can earn some money from this business at home, it would be very helpful.”

Andrea is trying to pay off student loan and other debt. She has been working with Evan Roarty-Collins, a financial coach at Southwest Solutions, to improve her credit and budgeting as she searches for a part-time job during the hours a home-care worker is with her mother.

Andrea turned 50 recently and she has a long work history. After graduating from high school in Detroit and then getting an associate’s degree in finance, she joined the Army in 1987 as a financial specialist. She served for 4 years, including two in years in Kuwait during Operation Desert Shield. After her service, Andrea worked for more than 20 years in finance-related jobs with three different companies, earning her bachelor’s in business administration along the way. She left the workforce when her mother became ill.

“There was never any question I would rearrange my life when my mother needed me to be there for her,” Andrea said. “Though the change was stressful, things are getting better now that I know the home will be ours again, and I have a plan to get my finances in order.”


Note: The Buy Back program is open to families who lost their homes to tax foreclosure or were renting homes that the landlords lost to foreclosure. To learn more about the program and whether you might be eligible, contact the Land Bank at 1-844-BUY-DLBA.

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