Time short for Detroiters to save foreclosed homes

Christine Ferretti
The Detroit News

Detroit — City and county officials are urging Detroiters in foreclosure to come forward and take advantage of a “one-time break” to save their homes.

Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan and Wayne County Treasurer Ray Wojtowicz during a joint news conference at City Hall touted a landmark package of foreclosure prevention bills they successfully lobbied the state Legislature to approve in November.

The bills, signed into law by Gov. Rick Snyder in January, allow county treasurers to cut the interest rate on overdue taxes from 18 percent to 6 percent. In many cases, homeowners also can have taxes capped at a quarter of the market value of the home.

“We went through a lot of effort to get homeowners the ability to stay in their homes in a way that’s never been available before in the state of Michigan,” Duggan said, noting the option will be available only in 2015 and 2016.

“This truly is an historic break. We are here today to say, ‘You have three weeks left.’ ”

Officials on Tuesday said more than 40 percent of 18,000 Detroit families facing foreclosure on the homes they own and occupy have signed up for payment plans or other agreements.

In addition, the owners of about 10,000 properties — mainly rentals — have entered into stipulated payment plans to avoid foreclosure.

Wojtowicz said thousands more have paid their taxes in full on vacant houses and lots they own in the city. In all, 27,000 properties are no longer facing foreclosure.

Another 10,000 Detroit homeowners could still sign up for a payment plan and avoid foreclosure. But the deadline is March 31 and time is running out, officials said.

“Our goal is if you still live in the house that you own, get in now and we can cut your interest rate,” Duggan said.

To qualify for the agreement, residents have to own and occupy the home and have a deed in their name. They will have up to five years to pay off multiple years of delinquencies and must also keep current taxes paid.

Wojtowicz said his office is ready to help, but residents must come forward.

“Time is running short for people to retain their right to their property,” he said. “... I do not want your property but I’m governed by state law.”

Joan Lee owns two houses on the city’s west side. She had been paying $400 each month for the delinquent taxes between both properties and has since reached an agreement that reduced the amount to $180.

Lee, who moved to the city in August 2012, says the former owner did not provide her with deeds to the houses until last fall. She was apprehensive about getting help, but now is thankful.

“It’s wonderful to know that others can do the same. Don’t be scared. Step forward,” Lee said. “You can make it. I made it. I’ve had my American dream.”

As of Jan. 1, there were 62,000 properties in Detroit facing tax foreclosure. Of those, it’s estimated that nearly half are either vacant houses or lots, officials said.

Of the roughly 35,000 occupied properties facing foreclosure, 18,000 are owned by the individuals or families who live in them.

To slow the rate of foreclosures, Duggan announced in January that residential property assessments citywide will decline 5-20 percent, the second consecutive year he’s cut taxes.

The changes followed years of complaints from homeowners that home assessments, on which taxes are based, bore little relation to market value, significantly increasing taxes and leading to waves of tax foreclosures.

City Councilman Gabe Leland recently launched a volunteer campaign aimed at connecting residents facing foreclosure with resources.

“I want to make sure the message is clear: City government, county government, we do not want these properties,” Leland said Tuesday. “We want individuals to be able to stay in their homes. We have a lot more people to save.”

Outside of Detroit, there are about 36,000 properties in Wayne County whose owners still have not contacted the treasurer’s office for assistance.

For information, call (313) 224-6105, email taxinfo@waynecounty.com or visit waynecounty.com/treasurer.