There are more than 100,000 vacant properties throughout Detroit, many of which are increasingly being taken over by squatters, The Detroit News reported Tuesday.
City Ombudsman Durene Brown says she used to receive about 100 complaints per year about squatters but that number has recently grown to about 300.
"Squatters are nothing new, but it's much easier with so many people losing their homes and the city's neglect at making sure [owners] are following our code enforcement," Brown said.
Gretchen Barrow, who fought for months to remove two squatter families from her neighborhood, said her area "has been hit with a number of abandoned houses and foreclosures, and that's a major concern for us. I wish I knew how to tackle that, but I don't have a clue."
Officials say only a homeowner or a bank can evict residents and a loophole in state law allows squatters to gain possession of a home if they live in it continuously for 15 years, the newspaper said.
"We have found it difficult when you call the police that unless the person is doing something against the law, (they) don't have proof they are not supposed to be there. It's a Catch-22 situation," said Tom Goddeeris, an executive director of a legal resources group.
"We should look at it both ways: How do we embrace it and turn the negative into a positive?" said Quincy Jones, head of the Osborn Neighborhood Alliance. "All these homes are sitting and it's an open invitation for squatters. It helps prevent homes from being stripped."