Dead bodies, wild dogs, squatters in government-owned Detroit houses


At one end of Alpine Street, near Joy Road on Detroit’s west side, Georgeia Elder and a friend live in a leaky trailer, their yard cluttered with a boat and a Cadillac Escalade with four ladders on the roof, a shopping cart and a lawn mower, a folding chair and a metal headboard. A pit bull, Lady, laps up spaghetti and gravy from a takeout container.

At the other end of this short stretch of Alpine, near Tireman Avenue, a woman known as Spankie lives in a house with a dog she calls “my baby.” A heart-shaped sign hangs from the front door that says “Bless Our Home.” A handwritten sign instructs the postal carrier to put her mail in a box tucked into a milk crate next to the porch stairs. A scent of straw and animals hangs in the air.

These occupants don’t own the properties where they live. They’re not paying rent to the owner either. Their homes on Alpine Street, a Free Press analysis shows, bookend one of the City of Detroit’s highest concentrations of squatters, people who live in homes owned by the Detroit Land Bank Authority.

There are as many as 4,300 houses just like these across the city.

The Detroit Land Bank owns nearly 30,000 residential structures in the city. As many as 4,300 of them are occupied by squatters.

Many squatters once were the homeowners, but lost the houses to foreclosure. Others simply broke in and stayed. Along this four-block stretch of Alpine, squatters occupy 20 land bank properties, according to its records.

Ordell and Wardell Belt, twin brothers in their 60s, live in a small frame house without water or heat, but they have a pup, Scandalous, chained up outside for protection. Wardell did time in federal prison for armed bank robbery; Ordell said he was shot by police as a teenager and is too embarrassed today to describe what happened, other than he regrets what he did.

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