Demolition of dreams: 12 Detroit homes razed by mistake
Kristine Diven and Micho McAdow bought a home for $500 at a tax auction that was accidentally demolished.
Kristine Diven thought she had her dream house.
For $500 at a tax auction in October, she and fellow artist Micho "Detronik" McAdow bought an empty two-story home on Detroit's east side. Thrilled with its crown molding, hardwood floors and fireplace mantels adorned with Pewabic tile, the pair planned to fix it up and move in by spring.
As a first step, Diven, 36, prepared to board up the Morningside neighborhood house to protect it against vandals and wintertime damage. But when she and McAdow drove down Beaconsfield Street one evening in December, their new house was gone.
"Instead of taking measurements for the boards we needed, we found our house in a pile," she said.
The structure had been demolished — mistakenly — by the state's Land Bank Fast Track Authority as part of a program to eliminate blight near three east-side schools.
At least 11 other properties, purchased by a local investor, also were demolished by mistake, said Karla Henderson, director of the city's planning and facilities department.
"When we drove up, I thought what I was seeing couldn't be right," Diven said. "In the past (few) weeks, it's almost like being in mourning."
Mistakes like this are rare, city and state officials said.
It turned out that Diven's home and the others had been slated for demolition before being sold at auction, said Kurt Weiss, a state government spokesman.
The city ordered the house on Beaconsfield demolished in June 2011. The Fire Department identified the building as vacant and dangerous last summer. It was added to a final demolition list July 30.
At the same time, the house went up for auction by the Wayne County Treasurer's Office over the summer. When it didn't sell then, it was placed on sale again by the county in October, a last-ditch effort for the treasurer to get rid of the property, city officials said.
The home was demolished a day before the deed was recorded to the official buyer — Chris Xiromeritis — a friend of Diven's who had worked with her and McAdow to try to bid on multiple properties, according to Weiss and county records.
The other 11 properties identified as being improperly razed were purchased by Sameer Beydoun, a Dearborn real estate agent.
Beydoun declined to comment, but a spokeswoman for his company, Dearborn-based Metro Property Group, said Beydoun bought the properties with the intent of rehabbing them to help restore Detroit neighborhoods.
"MPG is working with the state and county to resolve this matter, in terms of reimbursement," Darci McConnell, the spokeswoman, said in a written statement.
Although the city was not responsible for the mistake, Henderson gave Diven a list of empty, city-owned properties with an offer that she could take one.
But Diven said those properties are nothing like the jewel on Beaconsfield. The structure, originally built as a two-family flat, was converted into a single family residence with five bedrooms.
The property was adjacent to Grosse Pointe, potentially helping its value, she said. A family lived across the street. An empty lot next door would have made the perfect community garden, she added.
The home had a new roof and repairs seemed like they would be manageable. Diven and McAdow figured they would spend perhaps $8,000 on drywall, new bathtubs and window frame repairs to make the home livable.
Weiss said the Wayne County Treasurer's Office refunded Diven the $500 paid for the house.
"It was regrettable that it was inadvertently torn down," Weiss said. "This has been a very successful program, but obviously in this instance it didn't happen the way it was supposed to."
Weiss said the state is still committed to tearing down blighted structures near schools and is confident that similar errors will be avoided.
The mistaken demolitions occurred in the midst of a campaign by state and city officials to tear down tens of thousands of rotting, abandoned Detroit homes.
In July, Gov. Rick Snyder launched a pilot project among the city, state and Wayne County to use $10 million to demolish about 1,200 abandoned buildings surrounding schools in three Detroit neighborhoods, including Morningside.
The "Pathways to Potential" project also is to include fixing houses, cutting crime and sending social workers to Detroit Public School campuses. The Detroit City Council approved the deal in mid-October.
Diven and McAdow's home was in a neighborhood targeted by the program.
Some 19,600 properties with unpaid property taxes went up for auction with opening bids as low as $500. Of those, 12,327 were sold.
In the months preceding the Oct. 24 purchase, Diven spent much of her free time navigating the scores of Detroit properties on the auction list.
Often when she found an address, the property was little more than a burnt-out building. "You're going in blind and taking some deal of risk, but you hope that you get through the process relatively unscathed," said Diven, who lives in the Rivertown area.
Friends of Diven, a New Yorker who moved to Detroit about four years ago, warned her not to get too excited about the home.
Owners of similar properties purchased in the auction said they've been the victims of theft, arson, even illegal squatting. The cost of renovation, they added, can sometimes be steep, too.
But Diven said she and McAdow, who works in interactive media, "felt we had a diamond in the rough. We were surprised by how no one noticed the condition it was in, it was almost ready to move into."
Diven and McAdow said they aren't considering legal action but want officials to make amends for their mistake. A house of similar quality would help, considering all the labor they put into finding the Morningside home, she said.
"We've had a lot of email and phone conversations from seemingly friendly, polite and apologetic people," Diven said. "But I'm afraid that as time goes by… promises will be broken and that this is going to be swept under the rug."