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Foreclosures helping change color of some suburbs

Associated Press | 3/1/2011, 7:05 p.m.

SOUTHFIELD, Mich. - Three years ago, Lamar Grace left Detroit for the suburb of Southfield. He got a good deal - a 3,000-square-foot colonial that once was worth $220,000. In foreclosure, he paid $109,000.

The neighbors were not pleased.

“They don’t want to live next door to ghetto folks,” he says.

That his neighbors are black, like Grace, is immaterial. Many in the black middle class moved out of Detroit and settled in the northern suburbs years ago; now, due to foreclosures, it is easy to buy or rent houses on the cheap here. The result has been a new, poorer wave of arrivals from the city, and growing tensions between established residents and the newcomers.

“There’s a way in which they look down on people moving in from Detroit into houses they bought for much lower prices,” says Grace, a 39-year-old telephone company analyst. “I understand you want to keep out the riffraff, but it’s not my fault you paid $250,000 and I paid a buck.”

The neighbors say there’s more to it than that. People like John Clanton, a retired auto worker, say the new arrivals have brought behavior more common in the inner city -- increased trash, adults and children on the streets at all times of the night, a disregard for others’ property.

“During the summer months, I sat in the garage and at 3 o’clock in the morning you see them walking up and the down the streets on their cell phones talking,” Clanton says. “They pull up (in cars) in the middle of the street, and they’ll hold a conversation. You can’t get in your driveway. You blow the horn and they look back at you and keep on talking. That’s all Detroit.”

The tensions have not gone unnoticed by local officials.

“I’ve got people of color who don’t want people of color to move into the city,” says Southfield Police Chief Joseph Thomas, who is himself black. “It’s not a black-white thing. This is a black-black thing. My six-figure blacks are very concerned about multiple-family, economically depressed people moving into rental homes and apartments, bringing in their bad behaviors.”

For example, “They still think it’s OK to play basketball at 3 o’clock in the morning; it’s OK to play football in the streets when there’s a car coming; it’s OK to walk down the streets three abreast. That’s unacceptable in this city.”

Thomas has seen the desperation of the new arrivals. His officers, handling complaints, have found two or more families living in a single house, pooling their money for rent. They have “no food in the refrigerator and no furniture,” Thomas says. “They can’t afford the food. They can’t afford the furniture.” But they were eager to flee the gunfire of their old neighborhoods in Detroit.

The foreclosure crisis made it possible.

“We had a large number of people who have purchased homes from 2005 on, where the banks were very generous with their credit and they’ve allowed for people without documentation and income verification to borrow 95 to 100 percent of home values,” Southfield Treasurer Irv Lowenberg says. “Many purchased homes when they had two jobs in the household and one of the jobs was lost.