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Detroiters looking for tax break must act fast

Christine MacDonald
The Detroit News

The deadline for low-income Detroit homeowners to wipe away their property tax bills is approaching and housing advocates say the city should do more to get the word out.

City officials can give homeowners who qualify poverty exemptions that can eliminate all their yearly property taxes or cut them in half, but experts say many residents don’t know about the process. The deadline to discount this year’s tax bill is Dec. 13.

Greg Markus, the executive director of the Detroit Action Commonwealth, a nonprofit that helps the poor, said the city could make it easier for residents to apply. His group wants the application online for those who can’t trek to the Coleman A. Young Municipal Building and has asked the city to distribute the paperwork in different languages.

“The system is unjust the way it stands,” said Markus, a professor emeritus from the University of Michigan. “It is hurting thousands of low income Detroiters and that is just not right.”

Detroit Citizens Board of Review Chairman Willie Donwell said they hope to have the application online by next year and translated into other languages soon. He said the group has done more outreach to promote the exemption but said they have no advertising budget.

“We’ve had a much better effort and more support,” Donwell said.

Markus acknowledged the city has worked hard this year on outreach and that they eliminated what he called a needless step in the process that required homeowners to fill out an application to receive the exemption application.

The county treasurer has processed more than 140,000 foreclosures countywide since 2002, the vast majority in Detroit. Markus and others have argued that many people lost their homes who shouldn’t have because they didn’t know they qualified for help.

To qualify for a full exemption, a single person has to make $16,660 a year or less. And to have property bills cut in half, individuals have to make $19,160 a year or less. Also, the board can choose to grant exemptions to homeowners whose income exceeds the limits in cases where they are extenuating circumstances, such as an illness or death.

Applications can be picked up on the eighth floor of the Coleman A. Young Municipal Center.

This year the board has granted 3,146 exemptions as of this fall. Donwell said last year they allowed nearly 4,000 and expect to surpass that number this year.