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The Tricycle Collective is a crowdfunding campaign with the goal of keeping Detroit families in their homes. The funds raised through Indiegogo will contribute to the efforts of ten families who would like to purchase their current home during Round Two of the Wayne County Tax Foreclosure Auction happening this October. Michele Oberholtzer is a writer turned community organizer who is leading the campaign, and I met her over coffee to learn more.

Oberholtzer became acquainted with the Wayne County Foreclosure Auction while doing property surveying for Loveland Technologies. While taking pictures and notes about foreclosed homes in various neighborhoods of Detroit, she was confronted by homeowners who had no idea about the upcoming auction. She began doing some research and quickly realized that there was a serious information gap between the auction itself and the affected populace. Some of those she spoke to who did know about it weren’t internet savvy or quite sure of the registration process required to participate. Oberholtzer saw an opportunity to bridge this gap in order give people a chance to stay in their homes.

The Tricycle Collective is using crowdfunding to help keep Detroiters in their homes. Courtesy photo.

“I wanted to bring some humanity to foreclosure process,” said Oberholtzer.

In recent years the Wayne County Tax Foreclosure Auction has been growing.  This year is the biggest it’s ever been with 24,000 foreclosed  homes put out to bid by the county. Over 90% of these properties are in Detroit.  These aren’t charred piles of rubble, but homes that still have value. Of the 24,000 homes up for auction, 10,000 are occupied.  In Round One of the auction in September, the most desirable homes had starting bids purchased for the full value of taxes owed on the home.

“I was noticing all these loved, lived-in, well cared for homes and wondering what is going to happen to these homes when the residents get evicted.  They could be scrapped within the first 24 hours,” said Oberholtzer.

Michele set her mind to getting the information out about the auction by talking to people directly and leaving her number stuck on doors around the various neighborhoods.

Around this time, Michele’s laptop was stolen from her car, and her soccer team pitched in and surprised her with a new one. That’s when it clicked for her. The houses in the October auction start bidding at $500, which is less than the cost of her computer.  Raising a few thousand dollars could really help some people in Detroit stay in their own homes.

The tricycles and other kid-mobiles sitting in the front lawns of foreclosed homes tugged on her heartstrings, and she decided to focus on saving the homes for families with children. The best way she could help in the limited timeframe was to find families for whom a small amount money could make a big difference.

Michele Oberholtzer

“I am really struck by the power of what $500 can do,” said Oberholtzer.

So the Tricycle Collective was born.  Michele has partnered with the United Community Housing Coalition to find ten families that are actively trying to stay in their homes, and who are more likely to stay in their homes for the long term. The $500 raised from the campaign will ease the financial burden required to participate and bid. Partnering with the UCHC ensures that the money from the donors will go to the right families.

“These aren’t just houses, these are homes,” she said.

Taking it a step further, Michele is featuring the stories and circumstances of the ten families that she is helping on her blog. After the end of the fundraiser, she will invite all the donors (even those who contributed just a dollar)  to a homeowners potluck for the recipients of the funds.

With an even bigger tax auction slated for next year Oberholtzer is thinking about growing the organization to help more people, including those without children. For now, she is focused on seeing the campaign through to success.

Click here to go to the Indiegogo page for the The Tricycle Collective.