Detroiters pay back taxes in effort to keep homes

Kim Kozlowski
The Detroit News

Detroit — Kimit Jones knows June 30 is the drop-dead date for her and thousands of other Detroit homeowners to take care of delinquent taxes — or possibly face foreclosure on her home.

That’s why Jones on Saturday attended a Property Tax Assistance Fair to get help making payment arrangements. It was the first sponsored by the city of Detroit and held in conjunction with Wayne County, the United Community Housing Coalition and other organizations.

“I really need to take care of this,” said Jones, who is two years behind on the taxes on her home after she stopped working following an injury in accident. “I just hope they can help.”

Jones was among 150 people who attended the fair to help ease homeowners’ property tax burden and prevent foreclosure by helping them with new payment plans that reduce interest rates for many from 18 percent to 6 percent.

But there are nearly 9,000 other Detroiters who still need to take action by June 30 to get the lower, 6 percent interest rate that ends June 30 — and avoid foreclosure, said Debra Pospiech, Detroit deputy treasurer for taxes.

Staggering numbers of people have faced foreclosure over the past decade in Detroit, more than 50,000-60,000, following changes in 2002 to a law that resulted in massive foreclosures on homeowners, said Ted Phillips, of the United Community Housing Coalition

Last year was a record-setting year for homes that went to the auction after foreclosure, about 30,000.

Officials are working to dramatically to reduce the number of residents facing foreclosure this year by getting the word out about help that is available.

Residents who were unable to attend Saturday’s fair should seek help from city or Wayne County officials, or attend another fair scheduled from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesday during the Michigan State Housing Development Authority Housing Fair at Wayne County Community College’s Northwest Campus.

“We want the citizens to stay in their homes,” said Pospiech. “Nobody wants to foreclose on these homes. So there are so many programs available, so many ways to prevent it, we encourage everyone - don’t be shy, come down here, take care of it. Fill out the forms, go through the process and save your home.”

Many residents were pleased to see the event in the community, at the Northwest Activities Center, on a weekend day so they could avoid going downtown.

“I’m here to get assistance on my taxes,” said Kelly Smith, who lives with her three, school age children in the West Grandmont neighborhood and is behind two years on her taxes. “We want to keep our home.”

It’s important that other residents take care of their unpaid taxes because there will not be any more payment plans after June 30,” Phillips said.

“If you don’t resolve it by June 30, you are out of luck, you’ve lost your home,” said Phillips. “ Someone else is going to own it and you are going to be at my doorstep during Thanksgiving and Christmastime wanting to get help moving.”

Homes go into foreclosure generally after three years of unpaid taxes. They typically end up at the auction in September and October and people becaome aware that their houses are sold by the holidays, Phillips said. People usually come to see him with horror stories around that time, but by then there is not much that can be done.

Sometimes there is a negotiation with an investor to buy it back but that is typically 10 to 15 times what was paid for the home.

“There is no hyperbole there,” Phillips said. “(An investor) will buy it for $1,000, then want to sell it back for $15,000, $20,000 to the homeowner. Or, they have to move. Sometimes people have lived in these homes their whole lives ... This happens every year. It’s gut-wrenching.”