Blight a growing concern in Muskegon Heights

An abandoned home on 6th Street in Muskegon Heights where a squatter has taken up residence. (Aug. 18, 2014)

MUSKEGON HEIGHTS, Mich. (WOOD) — More than 200 homes in Muskegon Heights are abandoned and both residents and officials say it’s a growing concern in the community.

Residents who live on 6th Street told 24 Hour News 8 they have not experienced many problems in the neighborhood, but have seen quite a few blighted homes over the past several years.

“The neighborhood is pretty peaceful for the most part,” said resident Belinda Johnson.

According to Johnson and her next-door neighbor, Tanesha, a squatter recently moved into one of the houses that has been abandoned for nearly four years.

“They need to get him out of here,” said Tanesha, who wanted to be identified by her first name only. “I have little kids and I don’t know what he is capable of. I don’t want him living next to me. I come home late at night from work and I’m afraid to go into the house and afraid for my kids because I don’t know this person.”

The women have contacted police and city officials to see if the squatter could be removed from the home.

“I called the police,” Johnson said. “They come out and he says, ‘Well, I can make him leave, but he’s just going to go around the corner and come right back.’”

Tanesha, who has lived in the neighborhood for eight years, said she couldn’t get a straight answer from authorities.

“The city told me it was the county’s problem, the county told me it was the city’s problem,” she said.

Officials told 24 Hour News 8 they understand the concern.

“The citizens have every right to be upset about it in the neighborhoods,” said Muskegon County Treasurer Tony Moulatsiotis.

The house is listed as property of the county treasurer, but Moulatsiotis said fixing the blight is not his department’s problem.

“It is not the county’s responsibility to take care of the properties,” Moulatsiotis said. “It is the county’s responsibility to recoup the $12-plus million that were dispersed every year.”

There has been an ongoing dispute between the city and the county about who is responsible for the abandoned homes. In 2012, the two entities went to court.

“There was a lawsuit because there was some disagreement in the beginning. The City of Muskegon Heights thought it was our responsibility to do it, but we won that lawsuit,” Moulatsiotis said. “It was very clear that we are not responsible.”

According to Moulatsiotis, local municipalities should handle the problem.

“Local municipalities must and they should with the law enforcement officers make sure those houses are at least safe and if there are squatters, they should kick them out,” he said.

The problem boils down to money, which officials said they do not have enough of in order to eradicate the issue.

“There are no funds available to do anything like that,” Moulatsiotis said. “Unfortunately, with all the cuts and the economy and everything else, even the local municipalities are very short on money. My understanding is, the Heights is doing the best they can.”

Moulatsiotis said the county and the city is working together to find a solution.

“We are trying to bring federal funds in to take care of this blight situation and we are very hopeful it is going to happen,” he said.

Some form of relief, Moulatsiotis said, could come by the end of the year.

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