Deadline Thursday to avoid foreclosure in Wayne County

Christine MacDonald
The Detroit News
Nearly 7,000 properties countywide face foreclosure as of last week because they have debt from their 2016 property tax bill.

Wayne County property owners facing foreclosure over unpaid taxes have until Thursday to get on a payment plan to avoid losing their properties, according to county officials. 

Nearly 7,000 properties countywide face foreclosure as of last week because they have debt from their 2016 property tax bill. The Wayne County Treasurer typically forecloses after three years of unpaid taxes.

The deadline means there will be long lines at the treasurer's office at 400 Monroe in downtown Detroit this week. Advocates say many times the elderly and people struggling with health issues delay resolving the issue and need the most help.

"It is going to be really hectic ... but there is still hope to get help," said Ted Phillips of the United Community Housing Coalition.  

Nearly 30,000 delinquent properties countywide were on payment plans for debt as of this spring. 

County officials have invited Phillips' group and other nonprofits to the treasurer's office to help counsel property owners and set up tables in office hallways. 

"I urge anyone who thinks they may be at risk of foreclosure to contact our office. We truly want to help, and our staff is standing by ready to serve you,” Treasurer Eric Sabree said in a press release last week. 

Phillips suggested homeowners to come in person to resolve the debt. A common mistake is that a taxpayer will pay the most recent year's debt rather than the older one that qualifies them for foreclosure. 

After the June 6 deadline, properties will be offered to the state, municipalities and counties, which could purchase them for a portion of the back taxes. Then the general public will be able to bid at auctions in September and October. 

There still are other options for those living in homes facing foreclosure but who can't get into payment plans, often because they can't afford the required down payment, have already defaulted on two payment plans or they are a renter and don't own the home. 

A coalition that includes the United Community Housing Coalition, the city of Detroit, Quicken Loans Community Fund and other foundations hopes to raise $4 million this year to help occupants buy 1,000 homes before they are sold at the foreclosure auction. The city of Detroit buys the homes before auction, sells them to the coalition who then sells them to those who qualify at discounted rates. 

The program was spurred in part by a lawsuit from the ACLU of Michigan filed against the city of Detroit over how it administered the property tax break for the poor.

Low-income homeowners can purchase their properties for $1,000 if they qualify. And renters and other non-deed holders, such as family members, could purchase the foreclosed homes for 70 percent of the unpaid tax bill. 

Last year, the group helped owner occupants, renters and others purchase 520 homes before they could be auctioned off, Phillips said. 

The group loaned out $1.2 million to those individuals last year and $1 million has already been paid back, he said. 

"Overwhelmingly, that money has come back, and it's still coming back," Philips said.