Detroit tax foreclosures fall 88% since 2015

Detroit — Wayne County and Detroit officials on Tuesday announced tax foreclosures in the city have fallen 88 percent in the last two years.

Officials said there were 768 tax foreclosures of owner-occupied homes in Detroit, down from 6,408 in 2015. They said it's the lowest level for Detroit tax foreclosures since the housing market collapsed in October 2008.

"In 2014, Detroit was looking at a tsunami of tax foreclosures," Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan said. "This is just a remarkable accomplishment."

Duggan made the remarks at a news conference held at the Butzel Family Recreation Center on the city's east side. He was joined by Wayne County Executive Warren Evans and Wayne County Treasurer Eric Sabree.

The officials attributed the trend to their efforts to reduce home foreclosures, the work of more than 15 neighborhood groups as well as the approval of an interest-reduction program in Wayne County by Gov. Rick Snyder and the state legislature.

Duggan said more than 50,000 families in Detroit who faced foreclosure were able to avoid it thanks to the interest-reduction program, which began in 2015. Under the program, homeowners are eligible to enter payment plans at an interest rate of 6 percent instead of the usual 18 percent.

Wayne County Treasurer Eric Sabree, from left, Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan and Wayne County Executive Warren Evans announced tax foreclosures in Detroit are down 88% over the last two years.

Overall, tax foreclosures in Detroit, including vacant abandoned properties, have fallen 70 percent from 24,793 in 2015 to 6,315 this year, officials said.

"Foreclosure is not something that anybody wants to see happen," Evans said. "No one will be happier than me to see foreclosures eliminated completely."

Sabree said Wayne County has also seen a reduction in tax foreclosures.

"This is phenomenal work," he said. "Of the 43 municipalities in Wayne County, 12 of them had zero foreclosures this year and 15 others had 10 or less."

Although numbers are down, housing advocates are pushing the treasurer to stop the sale of occupied homes.

Detroit homeowners, joined by the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan and the NAACP Legal and Education Fund, filed a lawsuit more than a year ago against the city and county treasurer. 

They argue the county’s auction violates the federal Fair Housing Act by disproportionately foreclosing on black homeowners, a process fueled by inflated city tax assessments and an inaccessible tax exemption for the poor.

Bernadette Atuahene, a law professor at the Illinois Institute of Technology's Chicago-Kent College of Law, who has studied Detroit’s assessments, examined 2015 city assessments and found 95 percent of lower-valued homes are over-assessed by the city. Lower-valued homes were worth under $10,400 in her work.

More than 31,000 properties in Detroit are now on county payments plans for back taxes. 

Housing advocates have predicted that many owners will default in coming months without more help. The News found in 2016 that owners of about 6,000 occupied properties in Detroit owed tax debt that was a quarter or more of what the houses are worth.

Detroit resident Denise Tanks, 30, said she knows first-hand how harrowing losing your home to foreclosure can be. The mother of two said the owner of the house she rents on the city's west side stopped paying the taxes. She said she got help from one of the neighborhood groups mentioned by the mayor.

"I have a son who has special needs so I couldn't just uproot my children," she said. "I didn't want to have to find another home. I think this is exciting because there are so many people going through the same thing I've gone through."