Hundreds seek to avoid foreclosure in Detroit

Christine MacDonald
The Detroit News

Nearly 1,000 property owners facing tax foreclosure packed an auditorium in downtown Detroit on Tuesday in hopes of saving their homes.

The event was the first of a series scheduled this month by the Wayne County Treasurer’s Office aimed at getting delinquent taxpayers on payment plans.

About 58,000 properties countywide are headed toward foreclosure in March unless owners enter into agreements with the county, said Wayne County Chief Deputy Eric Sabree. An estimated 50,000 are in the city of Detroit.

Sabree said county and city officials are meeting weekly to develop ways to help those facing foreclosure. They plan door-to-door outreach in the coming weeks with volunteers from nonprofits.

“We are making an extra effort this year to reach out to those (who owe) low amounts, only a couple thousand,” Sabree said.

Owners face foreclosure after three years of unpaid taxes. Each year, those properties are foreclosed by the county in March and then sold at auction in September and October. If owners enter payment plans and stay current, they can avoid the auction.

The treasurer’s office runs the controversial auctions, which critics say have forced people from their homes, while allowing investors to buy land in bulk without paying taxes. A Detroit News analysis found that 69 percent of the 16,500 Detroit properties bought at the 2013 and 2014 auctions were delinquent as of September 2015.

Thousands more properties don’t sell at all. Of the 28,000 properties the county auctioned off last fall, nearly 14,000 didn’t have a buyer, even for the opening bid price of $500.

Overall, more than 100,000 properties have been foreclosed in the past 10 years.

Paul Spann attended Tuesday’s event in hopes of saving the west side home he, his wife and kids have lived in for three years. He bought it for $500 at the county’s tax foreclosure auction in 2012. He said he didn’t get a single city tax bill until this fall when the county notified him he faced foreclosure over a $2,000 debt.

“They didn’t send me anything,” Spann said of the city’s property tax department. “I think that’s messed up.

“They shouldn’t wait until the last minute. It doesn’t make sense.”

The hearings are taking place as the treasurer’s office is under new leadership for the first time in 39 years. Last month, a Wayne County panel appointed former judge Richard P. Hathaway to succeed Raymond J. Wojtowicz, who retired Dec. 1.

Sabree said owners of about 18,800 properties countywide are in payment plans as of this week.

The hearings continue at 8:30 a.m. Wednesday and Thursday at the treasurer’s office downtown at 400 Monroe. More hearings also are scheduled, starting at 8:30 a.m. Jan 19-21 and Jan. 26-Jan. 28.