Dream house deferred

Just because a home is boarded up for years on end doesn’t mean it’s actually “abandoned.” A case in point is a prime piece of Cass Corridor real estate that has for some time now been a hangout for the neighborhood homeless population.

The Victorian two-story at 477 W. Alexandrine is on the market for a cool $110,000. It can’t be sold quickly enough as far as neighbors are concerned. Gail Hewitt (whose actual West Bloomfield abode is also pictured this week as a sort of bonus for our loyal readers — we’ll let you guess which one’s the rental) owns the Detroit gem, replete with easy public access, broken windows, space heaters and a collection of major appliances that provide a homey touch for transient residents looking for a quiet place to enjoy intoxication. In November, Hewitt spurned an offer of $72,900 to sell the house, according to her real estate agent, Paul Johnson of Magee Realty Co. Hewitt said in a voicemail to News Hits that she’s owned the property since 1987 and has worked with police to clear out squatters. She said she’s also tried to get the power turned off. “I don’t understand these homeless people,” she said. Records show the house has been on the city’s list of dangerous-nuisance properties since 1985. It has been the subject of numerous neighbor complaints, the latest filed March 5. Hewitt said she wasn’t aware the house has been on the dangerous properties list. “It amazes me that the city would continue to give me a permit to rent the property,” said Hewitt, adding that in recent years she’s been “trying to keep it vacant.”

To our horror, News Hits discovered that Detroit does not fine owners with property on the list. Instead, city inspection reports show the property avoided condemnation over the years because it was sufficiently barricaded. A longtime neighbor of the house, detroit contemporary gallery director Aaron Timlin, said he made an attempt to buy the property four years ago when it was appraised at around $28,000. Timlin wanted to renovate the eight potential apartments and convert the backyard into a garden. Alexandrine is at the edge of a quickly redeveloping Woodbridge-Cass Corridor area, dubbed by gentrifying entrepreneurs as “Midtown.” But the street still fits comfortably on the seedier side. Nevertheless, Hewitt’s property jumped in appraised value from $58,000 in 2001 to $105,000 this year and has garnered considerable interest, Johnson said, noting, “It hasn’t been safe for us to take people in” because of the “adverse tenants in possession.” News Hits, however, found the transients quite amiable. One fellow with a brown-bagged bottle in hand gave us a tour, apologizing for the smell and mess, while others reclined on couches. For now, it appears the house will continue its 17-year stint on Detroit’s dangerous property list.

Lisa M. Collins is a Metro Times staff writer. E-mail [email protected]
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