Bankole: Anger grows over $600 million overtaxation of Detroiters

Bankole Thompson

At the urging of the grassroots activist group “Call 'Em Out Coalition,” more than 500 Detroit homeowners showed up for a meeting upset and seeking answers following the Detroit News revelation that they were overtaxed by $600 million from 2010-2016. 

The room was crowded at the Considine Recreation Center at Little Rock Baptist Church last Thursday.

More than 500 Detroit homeowners upset about overtaxation attended a Thursday meeting at Considine Recreation Center at Little Rock Baptist Church in Detroit.

The group’s leader, Agnes Hitchcock, who issues the annual "Sambo Awards," called for direct action in ways reminiscent of the civil rights movement. Every word of outrage that dripped from Hitchcock’s lips drew a roar of agreement from the audience. She told them they should demand to be made financially whole by their elected leaders at City Hall. 

“We have a list of over 2,000 Detroit homeowners that have called us whose property has been overassessed with many facing foreclosure. These illegal inflated assessments have placed Detroiters in unprecedented peril,” Hitchcock said. “We meet today with lawyers and advocates to map out our demands of appropriate authorities and elected officials.” 

READ THE REPORTDetroit homeowners overtaxed by $600 million

Political veteran and 910-AM host Sam Riddle supported Hitchcock at the event. “Majority Detroit has been treated as if it were a plantation for too long. This meeting is the first step by majority Detroit to inflict itself on a Detroit that has placed us on the back burner of justice,” Riddle said.

“We can’t take this final insult that has cost too many their very last refuge — their homes. We must avail ourselves of any tactics including civil disobedience to ensure that Detroiters are made whole as a result of malfeasance.” 

Hitchcock, who explained that she has received thousands of calls from homeowners who have been overassessed, called their demands a new frontier for economic justice for poor Detroiters. 

“Cut the damn check” was one of the slogans directed at Mayor Mike Duggan and the Detroit City Council during the meeting, which lasted no more than an hour and a half, where homeowners were informed that there will be a sustained and organized public campaign all across the city insisting on an appropriate restitution.

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You could feel the energy and anger in the room full of residents, who believe that the recovery of Detroit is happening at their own expense and that they’ve been abandoned by their own government.

No matter how Detroit officials try to portray the comeback in a positive light, no one in that meeting saw the revitalization that has mostly concentrated in downtown and Midtown, as something that represents a new era of growth for the city. 

To them, news of the over-assessment is the latest sign of a problematic revitalization in a city that doles out hundreds of millions of dollars in tax abatements to major corporations — and then defers to existing law as reason why thousands who were overtaxed cannot get a refund. 

Duggan and members of the Detroit City Council should be worried about the meeting because it is bound to fuel a new movement for political change at City Hall, especially ahead of next year’s election.

Hitchcock repeatedly told the audience they won’t accept no for an answer from city officials. She demanded the $600 million of wealth taken away from Detroiters be returned.

Home ownership has long been the most consistent way of building wealth, and the fact that black home ownership has been declining in Detroit doesn’t help matters. 

While Detroiters are demanding payback for over-assessment of their properties, the issue is also reigniting debate about the property tax foreclosure system because some of those overcharged lost their homes to the foreclosure crisis. 

“Tens of thousands of vulnerable Detroit residents have tragically lost their homes through foreclosure over the past two decades. Their homes have been sold at auction to opportunistic investors for pennies on the dollar,” said John Mogk, a law professor at Wayne State University. “Thousands more will lose theirs in the future who are simply too poor to cover daily needs and also pay the tax. For vulnerable residents who can pay, the payments will absorb funds they might otherwise use to make repairs on older homes.” 

Concerning these issues, Mayor Duggan casts a blind eye at his own political peril.