Bob Moore wanted to help people in need.
In 2004, he saw his opportunity: there was a shortage of housing in Jackson for recovering alcoholics and drug addicts. Moore soon bought a large house on 3.5 acres, and started pouring his savings into repairs and upgrades. His first tenants soon moved in.
The house thrived—though it was never a moneymaker—and Moore expanded, opening another residence, and then one for women. He kept expanding. By the end of 2006, Moore owned eight properties housing 72 people.
It was challenging.
In addition to the rigors of being a landlord, he had a gun pulled on him by a drug dealer living near one house and endured a tenant holding up a bank shortly after moving into another.
But it was deeply rewarding.
“These were people whose families had given up on them,” he says. “We’d bring them into a structured environment, house them, give them food.
“They’d have to follow the rules. There were meetings every day. They were required to do chores, look for work and take regular drug tests. Once they found work, they were responsible for paying $350 per month in rent.”
The rent, he says, was to help cover costs—there was never a thought of making money.
In 2007, it started coming apart. As the recession hit, his employed tenants—mostly blue-collar worker with checkered pasts—started to lose their jobs, pushed out by more-educated workers bumped down the hiring ladder after losing their own jobs.
Around the same time, another small but helpful source of revenue–from the state for taking in early-release inmates—was eliminated by Lansing lawmakers.
After three years and with over $300,000 of his own money sunk into the endeavor, Moore says, he was broke. By the end of 2007, the houses were vacated and went into foreclosure. Moore went into bankruptcy
Nearly five years later, he received a phone call.
On the other end was Susan Murdie, a local gadfly upset with the city’s liberal home demolition policy.
Murdie had gone through the records and found that Moore still owned one of his old properties, a 5,500 square-foot multi-family building at 302 1st Street that he’d converted into an eight-bedroom house with four bathrooms, three kitchens and three living rooms.
“Why aren’t you taking care of your property?” Murdie asked.
“What property?” Moore responded.
As it happened, the house had gone through foreclosure and had reverted to his ownership. (Moore’s bankruptcy lawyer, it later emerged, had failed to inform him of this fact.)
In mid-April, Moore drove to Jackson to assess his property. Murdie joined him. A quick walk-through confirmed that it was a mess. It had been illegally occupied for a time, the electrical wiring had been stripped by thieves and there was a smattering of graffiti.
Moore locked the doors and made calls to get the place cleaned up.
A few days later, on April 18, as he was showing a prospective buyer the house, a man walked through the back door with a hammer in his hand.
Astonished, Moore asked the man why he was in his house. The man explained that he was a subcontractor gutting other condemned houses on the block for the city. He’d been given permission to use Moore’s basement as a staging area, he said.
Despite the unwanted visitor, Moore received a $15,000 offer for the house.
But the city would send more than a trespassing subcontractor into Moore’s path. As Moore would soon learn, two days previous, city inspectors looking at a house next to his noticed his back door was open. Interpreting this as grounds to enter the house, they proceeded to inspect it.
In short order, they found the same thing they’d found for so many other houses in town: it was unfit for habitation. Unless Moore paid $500,000 for repairs, it would have to be demolished. The fee for tearing it down: $30,000—to be paid by Moore.
Appearing before the Building Code Board of Examiners, and later appealing in court, Moore listened to the list of infractions: some graffiti; A cracked window on the second floor; crumbling plaster in the back stairwell.
Spending over $1,000, Moore fixed the alleged infractions, had the place cleaned, the carpets power-washed, the lawn mowed, the hedges trimmed.
As he would later tell the Board of Examiners, the wiring had been stripped, but that didn’t mean the place couldn’t be repaired. He told them of the offer to buy the house.
Unmoved, the Board of Examiners found that he had to have the place fixed up within a month or he’d have to foot the city’s bill for tearing it down.
Unlike many others that the City of Jackson has placed in a similar position, Moore pushed back. He got a lawyer and contested the Board’s findings. He appealed his case to a circuit court judge.
But in the end, he said, it wasn’t worth fighting the city so he could sell the house to the interested buyer. Instead, he offered to gift the property to Jackson in exchange for avoiding paying the steep demolition cost.
The city grudgingly accepted.
The whole endeavor—his attempt to help others in need—was in ruins. He’d lost all his money. The City had denied him the chance to sell his property to a willing buyer. But after clawing his way out of debt earlier this year, at least he wouldn’t have to go back into the red to pay for the City to destroy his house against his will.
“I am tired of it,” he said. “I want to be done with this.”