RENEE MONTAGNE, Host:
Michigan Radio's Tracy Samilton reports.
TRACY SAMILTON: If Michigan hand tumbleweeds, they'd surely blow through downtown Flint. Some neighborhoods have five or more houses in a row boarded up, as one owner, then another, packed up and left.
(SOUNDBITE OF BULLDOZER)
SAMILTON: Dan Kildee is Genesee County's treasurer and the chairman of the Land Bank. He says the old system, where the county auctions tax-foreclosed properties to the highest bidder, worked against the city's interests. The amount of money raised wasn't that much, and the result was often a spiral from bad to worse.
DAN KILDEE: Maybe a single family home becomes a rental and then the next time it passes through the system it goes from being an occupied rental to being sort of a slumlord-owned, sporadically leased property, and then eventually a big, abandoned, burned-out shell.
SAMILTON: Kildee says the new system is helping just about everyone. Developers who can prove they have Flint's best interest at heart get properties at a good price. Residents don't have to fear when the abandoned house next door will be set ablaze. And the city can focus its scarce resources on crime and jobs. But not everybody is happy with this scheme.
KILDEE: If the people who stay up too late at night and they watch these goofy infomercials and they learn that there's a way to make money in property through tax sales, and so they buy these tapes and they learn that there's this system.
SAMILTON: For the most part, real estate investment adviser John Reed agrees. He says the real problem is an outdated system and that counties need to enter the 21st century and stop selling tax-foreclosed properties at public auctions on the county courthouse steps.
JOHN REED: The whole reason speculators go after these things is because they're marketed in such a god-awful, inefficient way that they sell too cheap.
SAMILTON: Now the Land Bank plans to teach its methods to other shrinking cities like Youngstown, Little Rock, and the most dramatic example of all, New Orleans.
KILDEE: What they experienced over one weekend we have experienced over a period of 35 years. We had our own sort of slow motion Katrina.
SAMILTON: Mary Liman(ph) sits at her patio table overlooking her new yard that boasts a cheerful flower garden, a trellis, and a swing. She says it's a big change from the days she worried about drug dealers coming and going at the abandoned house that once stood there, once the house was gone and the land was hers.
MARY LIMAN: I just really enjoy coming out here like 6:30 in the morning with my coffee and sitting in the swing. I felt like I was in the country.
SAMILTON: For NPR News, I'm Tracy Samilton.
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