Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Detroiters Protest Thousands of Tax Foreclosures, Argue Payment Plans Aren't Enough to Save Homes
Errol Jennings talks to the media for the Russell Woods
Neighborhood Association on the west side. He has organized citywide
to halt the 62,000 tax foreclosures slated for March 31.
(Photo: Abayomi Azikiwe)
Khalil AlHajal

DETROIT, MI -- A crowd of demonstrators gathered outside City Hall on Tuesday calling for more help preventing thousands of tax foreclosures.

City officials have said that about 18,000 Detroit families faced foreclosure this year, but at least 40 percent of them were able to save their homes through payment plan programs, the mayor and county treasurer's offices announced earlier this month.

News state laws passed late last year allowed interest rates for such payment programs to be reduced from 18 percent to 6 percent. A cap on past-due taxes at 25 percent of a home's market value was also passed, along with a reduction of down payments to 10 percent.

Homeowners have until March 31 to sign up for payment plans and avoid foreclosure.

But protesters still struggling to make payments said the reforms weren't enough to keep thousands more people in their homes, and a pair of City Council members agreed Tuesday.

"We're here today to beg City Council to do something to help us," said demonstrator Sandi Combs, a teacher who lost her home to tax foreclosure in 2010 after being laid off from work and has since battled to buy her home back from a pair of property companies that purchased the house at auction.

She said drastic measures should be taken to prevent thousands more from losing their homes.

"When they declared a state of emergency for the city, what about the people who live here and have supported the city... Don't we deserve to be in a state of emergency as well?" she asked.

The state declared Detroit government to be in a state of financial emergency in March 2013. Emergency management of the city ended in December 2014 after the city exited bankruptcy.

City Councilman Gabe Leland said issuing a moratorium on tax foreclosures is an option city and county government should consider, sparking cheers from protesters who made their way into a council meeting after the demonstration.

"We are experiencing historic property tax foreclosure here in the city of Detroit," Leland said.

"And while I commend some of the work that happened last December (in the state legislature) during lame-duck... I'm not sure it did enough. And with the types of historic foreclosures that we're experiencing here in Detroit. I'm looking at ways that we can do more on levels of government. I think all things are on the table as it relates to providing some relief. Things that come to mind where we can change some state law, would be in places like giving the board of review more of an opportunity to appeal your property taxes. That's a start.

"Potentially a moratorium on property tax foreclosure just to give people an opportunity and government and opportunity to sort of go in and actually see what exactly is taking place. Because every situation is different."

In total, about 62,000 properties in Detroit will listed for tax foreclosure, but a large portion of those were unoccupied.

Of about 35,000 occupied homes on the foreclosure list, about 18,000 were owned by their occupants.

And about 7,500 of those homeowners had entered into payment plans as of March 10, according to the county treasurer's office.

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