Editorial: Welcome decrease in Wayne foreclosures

The Detroit News

Wayne County expects its property foreclosure rate to be down 36 percent from last year, which is good news for a region hit hard by the mortgage crisis. Its new treasurer, Eric Sabree, expects about 18,000 properties will head to auction this fall, following the deadline to enter payment plans, which passed last Thursday.

That’s certainly better than the 28,000 properties the treasurer’s office offered up in 2015 as a result of foreclosures. As another positive sign, Detroit has increased its payments to the county by $7 million.

After years of watching the county painfully evict residents and deal with record foreclosures, it’s a welcome improvement. The county is making smart decisions that are helping Wayne residents control their potential losses and enter payment plans.

Sabree credits the improvement to several practical changes that have been made to how his office handles foreclosure cases.

He’s aggressively advertised to Wayne residents—through billboards, mailings and door-to-door outreach—that it’s possible for them to enter payment plans by engaging with the treasurer’s office. And these plans reduce rates for many homeowners from 18 percent to 6 percent. Federal aid is also available to homeowners.

Almost 29,000 county residents—more than 22,000 in Detroit alone—have entered into some kind of assistance to help them pay 2013 taxes. More than 8,000 people have taken advantage of the interest rate reductions.

Though the interest reductions expired in June, Sabree is petitioning Lansing officials for legislation to extend them.

Sabree has also taken a much more neighborly approach to collections. He has partnered with nonprofits and neighborhood leaders to make sure homeowners at risk are aware of their options.

The office is working with groups like Meals on Wheels to get the message out to senior citizens about tax foreclosure and whether or not they might be at risk. Sabree said that population is “most” at risk of foreclosing, and being unaware there’s a problem.

The treasurer’s office also partnered with Loveland Technologies to survey occupied homes and help residents enter payment plans. Of its interactions with residents, Loveland said 38 percent of the 1,800 occupants they talked to didn’t know they were on track for foreclosure.

Sabree also said residents — particularly low-income residents — don’t know to apply for partial or full exemptions they likely qualify for. That proves education is just as key to solving this crisis as is reducing negligence.

To that end, Sabree’s office offers financial counseling and financial wellness classes for residents who want it.

“If someone misses a payment, we want to talk to them right away to help,” Sabree said in an editorial board meeting with The Detroit News. “We want to intervene early.”

The office has also set up kiosks in stores to handle payments, many of which are in cash. Online and phone payments are also going up, and Sabree said almost 1,000 people a day were coming into the office leading up to the deadline to make tax payments.

More outreach and education should help, but Sabree says the biggest problem is simply a lack of money and income circulating within the area.

It’s hard to argue with that conclusion—and it’s a much broader problem to tackle.

But for Wayne County residents facing eviction, improvements the county is making to help them stay in their homes are most helpful in the short term, and a critical piece of the county’s overall return to financial stability.