Colandra Hopson-Boyd

Colandra Hopson-Boyd faced eviction earlier this year after falling behind on her monthly land contract payments on her Detroit home. An anonymous donor paid the nearly 6,500 debt remaining on her home after reading about her situation in the Detroit Free Press. (Antranik Tavitian/Detroit Free Press/TNS)

DETROIT -- Colandra Boyd-Hopson was panicked earlier this year, worried she was close to losing her family's home after falling behind on her monthly payments.

Her husband, the family's primary breadwinner, had died last year after contracting the coronavirus.

To make things worse, she didn't qualify for pandemic aid because she was buying her house through a land contract. It's a nontraditional option to purchase the home over time directly from the owner because the buyer doesn't qualify for a traditional mortgage. Experts say land contract holders have fallen through the cracks even as the federal government has provided help to other strapped homeowners.

Then Boyd-Hopson got welcome news.

After the 51-year-old was featured in a February Detroit Free Press article, an anonymous metro Detroit couple donated $16,500 this spring to a local nonprofit specifically so she could pay off her land contract and own her home debt-free.

"It is a very good feeling," said Boyd-Hopson, who received the final paperwork to clear her housing debt this month. "I am really grateful that someone found it in their heart to help us because it would have been really, really bad if we had not received that help."

The donors, a husband and wife, told the Free Press that they were moved by Boyd-Hopson's challenges. "Sitting on sidelines, when we could do something, wasn't an option," the husband said.

The couple said they wanted to stay anonymous because they didn't want credit for the gift, which they made through the United Community Housing Coalition. Officials with the housing nonprofit confirmed the donation.

Also living in the home is Boyd-Hopson's mom and sister, both of whom have cerebral palsy, along with her daughter and 4-year-old grandson. Boyd-Hopson's husband, a 64-year-old retired auto parts salesman, died in early 2020. The extended family relied primarily on his Social Security disability payments.

"Knowing I have somewhere to lay my head, and for my family to lay theirs, and that we can be together, that is really great," she said.

More help could be on the way for others like Boyd-Hopson. Michigan officials say they are close to launching a $242.8 million federally funded homeowner assistance program that will help land contract buyers, as well as mortgage holders, starting later this year.

In contrast, renters were protected until last month by a national eviction moratorium and Michigan has targeted up to $622 million for rental aid. Also,  federal pandemic protections allowed some traditional mortgage holders to delay payments without the threat of foreclosure. But most land contract owners didn't qualify for those protections, experts and advocates said.

Advocates say it's crucial that land contract buyers are helped soon, adding that they are awaiting details on the new state program.

"It's huge," said Ted Phillips, executive director of the nonprofit United Community Housing Coalition. "That's the one group that's just totally left out in the woods."

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