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Detroit — Mayor Mike Duggan, Quicken Loans Community Fund and a coalition of city organizations are urging residents to apply for an expanded property tax exemption program to help them avoid foreclosure.

"We are committed to doing everything we can," Duggan told a group gathered Friday inside the eastside nonprofit U-Snap-Bac. "We are going to get blight out of this city, but we're not going to make any progress if people keep moving out of our houses. You've been here; we want you to stay in your home."

The group came together Friday to promote a citywide push to get eligible Detroit residents to apply for the Homeowner's Property Tax Assistance Program.

Under the expanded exemption, unveiled by Duggan earlier this month, the program now makes thousands more Detroit households eligible for property tax relief with the addition of a 25% exemption. 

That means a family of two earning $25,703 or a family of four earning $31,930 would be eligible for a 25% reduction on their property taxes.

The expansion also could eventually give more residents access to the city’s proposed Pay as You Stay program, recently passed by the state House and would eliminate penalties, interest and fees on back taxes.

"This work is needed, and we're eager to deepen our reach with the city and community counterparts," added Linda Smith, executive director of U-Snap-Bac  "Every resident, no matter their economic status, must stay in their home. We do not need any more vacant homes in the city of Detroit."

Previously, homeowners could qualify for a 100% exemption or a 50% exemption on their property taxes depending on income.  

A family of two earning $22,754 or less is eligible for a 50% exemption, while a family of two earning $20,246 or less is eligible for a 100% tax exemption, meaning they pay no property taxes each year they are eligible, according to the city.

A lengthy investigation by The Detroit News found city homeowners were overtaxed by at least $600 million after the city failed to accurately bring down property values in the years following the Great Recession. 

City Hall completed a state-ordered reappraisal of every residential property in 2017 to correct the problem, but thousands today still are facing foreclosure over back taxes. 

Of the more than 63,000 Detroit homes with delinquent debt as of last fall, more than 90% were overtaxed — by an average of at least $3,700 — between 2010 and 2016, according to calculations by The News. The debt owed on about 40,000 of those homes is less than the properties were overtaxed over those seven years. 

Duggan on Friday said 9,000 properties in Detroit were foreclosed on in 2015. Last year, he said, that number was down to 500.

"This year, we're going at it even harder, and we think we can make an even greater reduction," the mayor said.

The latest tax assistance effort builds on a similar program last year, which led to a 30% increase in the number of residents participants to avoid tax delinquency and potential foreclosure.

Residents who meet eligibility requirements must apply before March 21 and gain approval of the city's Board of Review can receive their tax exemption before summer tax bills are prepared.

Summer tax bills go out in July, and at least half of the amount owed is due Aug. 15. Taxes not paid before March 1 of the following year are delinquent and sent to the Wayne County Treasurer's Office for collection, officials said. 

Last year, 16 community partners conducted workshops, and through the help of Quicken's community fund, knocked on tens of thousands of doors to educate homeowners about the program and get them enrolled.

As a result, officials said, applicants rose to 7,600 from fewer than 6,000 the year prior. 

The partners in 2019 served about 3,500 Detroit families, said Laura Grannemann, Quicken Loans Community Fund vice president. 

Quicken, she said, recruited more than 400 Detroit residents to go door-to-door to all of the 60,000 families in Detroit that were behind on property taxes.

Grannemann said many homeowners or occupants should have been able to qualify for a property tax exemption but "just didn't know."

This year, she said, Lyft rides are being offered to help those with mobility limitations reach community partner offices and the team has called more than 3,000 homeowners over the last six months to remind them of the exemptions.

"Going forward, we have to totally change the dynamic of the conversation and put people at the center of it and ask them what it is they need to be able to stay in their home," she said.

Community partners are expected to host a new series of workshops beginning next month. They will be held regularly in each of the city's seven council districts. 

In 2019, the city granted 7,601 property tax exemptions to qualifying Detroit homeowners, a 30% jump from the previous year. The increase, officials said, followed more outreach efforts by the city and community partners, including mailers, workshops and billboards.

Detroit's foreclosures have fallen from a record high 9,111 occupied homes in 2015 to 514 last year, representing a 94% drop, city data shows.

About 31,000 Detroiters living in their homes are behind on tax debt, and Duggan has estimated more than 60% could meet the income requirements to qualify for Pay as You Stay.

Applications are available online and can be requested through mail by calling (313) 224-3035 or emailing assessorspecialprocessing@detroitmi.gov.

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