Anne Elizabeth Moore was gifted a house in Detroit’s BanglaTown neighborhood for free by Write a House, an organization that awarded homes to low-income writers. An American dream, right? Well, not really. Soon after moving in, she realized the home needed urgent repairs, and what was supposed to be “free” had become extremely expensive. When Moore put the house on the market, she learned that she didn’t actually own the house, as her name wasn’t on the title. Technically, the house had belonged to a woman named Tomeka Langford. “This isn’t a story about gentrification – at least, not how we usually think about it,” writes Moore. “It’s a story of a Black woman losing her home to municipal greed, and a white woman benefitting from her loss.” Moore seeks out Langford, and in this piece for BridgeDetroit, investigates what happened.

Then in spring 2012, Tomeka was at a birthday party, poking around the county’s property tax auction website with a friend. “I was helping somebody else look for houses,” she says. She was seen as an expert among her peers in making the dream of home ownership come true.

Then she saw a listing – for her own house.

The white two-and-a-half bedroom BanglaTown bungalow was listed on the Wayne County tax foreclosure auction website.

She had only owned the house for two years and knew – everyone in Detroit did then – that it was supposed to take three years before the county can foreclose on a property. She says she was on a payment plan, and making regular payments on her back taxes. She admits she’d been having trouble receiving all her mail at the new house, but wouldn’t the treasurer’s office have alerted her to the pending foreclosure when she dropped off another property tax payment?

Cheri Lucas Rowlands

Cheri has been an editor at Longreads since 2014. She's currently based in the San Francisco Bay Area.