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Detroit braces for a flood of tax foreclosures

detroitnews.com | July 2, 2015

A fresh wave of foreclosures could destabilize neighborhoods in Detroit, just as they are beginning to recover from the mortgage meltdown.

Wayne County plans to sell 28,545 Detroit properties at auction this fall — including about 10,000 occupied homes — that are three or more years delinquent on taxes. That's a record number, in part because Treasurer Raymond J. Wojtowicz ended a long practice of avoiding foreclosure on properties with delinquencies of less than $1,700.

Officials said they're sympathetic, but the days of avoiding paying taxes in Detroit are over.

"We want to keep people in the homes. We realize it's bad for neighborhoods," said David Szymanski, the county's chief deputy treasurer.

"But there are services provided for homes. If you don't pay your taxes, your neighbor is subsidizing them for you. That's not fair."

The tally is down from about 67,000 Detroit properties served with foreclosure notices last fall. That's because 40,000 owners have agreed to payment plans and other programs offered by the treasurer.

Activists fear widespread devastation, coming atop 139,000 mortgage and tax foreclosures in Detroit since 2005.

"We need to have a debate: Are we sure it's the right public policy to foreclose on people en masse?" said Chris Uhl, a vice president with the Skillman Foundation, which is working with nonprofits to prevent the foreclosures.

"We're reaching the tipping point in neighborhoods. When you foreclose on halfway decent housing stock, it's going to destabilize communities."

Data is preliminary, but statistics indicate those now at risk of losing their homes are senior citizens and those with young children, Uhl said.

More than 80 percent of those facing foreclosures have faced a hardship in the past year — medical problems, divorce, job loss or a family death — while about 36 percent meet federal poverty levels, according to data collected by the United Way of Southeastern Michigan and other nonprofits at workshops to help families facing foreclosures.

Because of scrapping, homes in Detroit are often destroyed within weeks of becoming vacant. Demolishing them costs up to $15,000 per house.

 

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