In keeping with the holiday spirit, the Abandoned Structure Squad offers up a special treat this week. Look closely at the above photo. And then picture yourself living in this hovel, forking over $275 a month in rent for a place that has no furnace or toilet.

This week’s gem is owned by none other than Rex Investment Company, one of several firms owned by Ernest Karr of Bloomfield Township. Our recent cover story (“This cold house,” Metro Times, Nov. 6-12), identified Karr as one of Detroit’s most notorious slumlords. And the structure pictured above is included on a recent rental list distributed by Karr’s main company, Joy Management.

You see, News Hits views stories like this much the same way a hungry dog eyes a meaty ham shank. We just want to keep gnawing on it until something changes.

How can a company like Rex Investment, which owes $1,560 in city taxes on a structure that’s been in the city’s dangerous housing database since 1991, keep doing business?

The problem, says Jamaine Dickens, is that there’s not a whole lot the city can currently do when it comes to curbing problem landlords. Issuing misdemeanor violations against Karr’s firms has done little good in the past; the matter simply gets tied up in court, says the spokesman for Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick.

But don’t despair. Dickens promises that the administration is working hard on a new strategy that will put a halt to companies doing this kind of business.

“This problem is much bigger than one individual,” says Dickens. “There’s a number of issues that create the problem and allow for this type of situation to exist. In order to solve the problem, you don’t target individuals. You target the issues that create the situation in the first place.”

As our article pointed out, and Dickens admits, the current system “is horribly broken, and there’s a lot of factors that go into play.”

“First of all,” explains Dickens, “the demolition process takes so long that it allows enough time for a person to move into a house that’s on the list. Obviously that’s a problem. If someone moves in, there’s a whole other bureaucratic process that comes into play.” He says the city is working to slash demolition waiting periods to no more than 120 days.

But that’s only part of the solution. We eagerly await details revealing the mayor’s overall plan to address the problem.

Meanwhile, nonprofit agencies want folks to know there are alternatives to renting from slumlords. Some 60 nonprofits are working throughout the city to rehab dilapidated houses and build new low-income housing. The nonprofits are responsible for some 700 new single-family and multifamily housing units since 1995, and more than 1,000 units are currently in the pipeline, says Barbara Washington Bass, director of Community Development Advocates of Detroit. To find out more on how to volunteer for one of these agencies or to hear about low-income housing opportunities, call CDAD at 313-964-4910, or visit Send comments to [email protected]