Traverse City Record-Eagle

December 6, 2013

Anti-blight bills headed to Michigan governor

DAVID EGGERT
Associated Press

---- — LANSING (AP) — Ten years after giving cities the power to fine people for blighted properties, Michigan is close to enacting new laws to subject violators to potential jail time and streamline procedures to garnish their wages.

The bipartisan anti-blight legislation that won final approval Thursday from the Senate is expected to be signed by Gov. Rick Snyder and to take effect in March.

The bills are meant to help Detroit and other cities clean up neighborhoods full of dilapidated houses, junked cars, trash and uncut weeds. They would put more teeth in the 2003 law by letting many cities that meet minimum population thresholds and have anti-blight bureaus pursue criminal charges against people who rack up more than $1,000 in unpaid blight-related fines and costs.

A first refusal to pay fines would be a civil infraction. Two or more violations would be a misdemeanor and mean potential jail time and more fines.

“They hold people accountable. It’s no longer going to be simple for you to make trash in the city of Detroit or other cities that struggle like Detroit,” said Sen. Bert Johnson, a Highland Park Democrat and sponsor of one bill in the five-bill package. “We’re going to see some deterrent.”

The legislation also would let cities refuse to rezone blighted properties or give building permits to their owners who have outstanding fines. City officials could garnish wages for blight violations and put a lien on blighted properties.

The new restrictions would not apply to banks, mortgage servicers and credit unions that have been criticized for not taking care of foreclosed houses and businesses.

Johnson said it would be “very difficult” to hold banks accountable as many people would like because so many banks are located outside Detroit and Michigan.

“I do understand the consternation that people who have about that,” he said.

While Detroit’s downtown and Midtown neighborhoods are experiencing a rebirth, many others are scarred with blight and burned-out bungalows.

“I go to numerous community meetings every week and blight is one of the top complaints I hear about,” said Sen. Virgil Smith, a Detroit Democrat and sponsor of one of the bills.

Earlier this year, the federal government approved $100 million in aid to demolish abandoned buildings and fight blight in Detroit — which has been ruled eligible for bankruptcy — Flint, Saginaw, Pontiac and Grand Rapids.