Sheffield seeks input for ordinance to help overtaxed Detroit homeowners

Sarah Rahal
The Detroit News

Detroit — City Council President Mary Sheffield will host a People's Forum Saturday with the Coalition for Property Tax Justice to gather homeowner input for a compensation ordinance she intends to draft to address hundreds of millions in property overassessments. 

The event, being held virtually, will feature breakout sessions by council district and is designed to provide a historical overview "of where we are, how we got here, and what are the next steps," Sheffield told The Detroit News Friday.

"We want to make sure that the new members (of council) know what the concerns are of the people and what direction are we going to go moving forward," Sheffield said. 

City Council President Mary Sheffield is hosting a Saturday forum to gather resident feedback for an ordinance she plans to draft to address property overassessments in Detroit.

Advocates have heightened their calls for state and city leaders to investigate the ongoing "inaccuracy" and "inequity" in property tax assessments in Detroit since a January 2020 investigation by The Detroit News found the city failed to accurately bring down property values in the years following the Great Recession. As a result, Detroit overtaxed homeowners by at least $600 million over a six-year period. 

The tax justice group has noted multiple studies have found the lowest-valued homes in Detroit continue to be overassessed — even after a citywide reappraisal in 2017 that cost $8.4 million — and the group has argued that it's putting thousands of Detroiters at risk of unjust foreclosure.

A March 2021 report by Bloomberg on the nationwide impact of assessments on Black communities, including Detroit. The report examined instances nationally of local officials overvaluing the lowest-priced homes relative to the highest-priced homes. 

Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan and Detroit Assessor Alvin Horhn have pushed back on the study's findings and other claims that properties in the city continue to be overassessed, saying the gap between home prices and assessments was largely closed in 2014 when the mayor took office. The administration has said it doesn't believe overassessments are still happening in Detroit but stressed that assessments vary by neighborhood. 

The mayor won't be attending Saturday's forum.

"The Mayor is the one who stopped the overassessments when he cut residential assessments across the city by 20% his first month in office," city spokesman John Roach said in an email to The News Friday.

Sheffield and Duggan haven't seen eye-to-eye on the issue.

In November 2020, Detroit's former City Council narrowly rejected a proposal from Duggan's administration that would have given residents potentially overtaxed before 2014 priority in affordable housing, home-buying discounts and job opportunities. The majority of council members argued the proposal didn't go far enough.

The plan — opposed by tax justice groups and several council members including Sheffield — sought to offset losses from 2010 to 2013. 

"The coalition and I believe when you took people's homes, not only did you take their physical, their actual property, you also took their dignity. So it's a dignity restoration process that we believe in," Sheffield said.

Sheffield said there should be a "menu of options" that people who were impacted by overassessment are able to choose from including tax credits, offering discounted properties through the land bank, or home improvement grants.

"I think those negatively impacted should be able to choose because everyone is in different places in their lives," she said. 

U.S. Rep. Rashida Tlaib, who is expected to attend the Saturday forum, is among those who have urged Gov. Gretchen Whitmer to investigate property tax overassessments in Detroit. This time last year, she live-streamed a town hall billed #BlackHomesMatter.

Bernadette Atuahene, law professor and author of the study on illegal foreclosures, is also expected to attend.

The event can be accessed here at 10:30 a.m. Saturday.