Wayne County begins foreclosure process on a whopping 80,000 properties

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One of every five properties in Detroit are in the process of foreclosure under an unprecedented effort by Wayne County to take possession of every property that is three or more years behind in taxes.

Wayne County is beginning to notify an unprecedented 80,000 property owners – about 70,000 of them in Detroit – that they are on the verge of losing their property to foreclosure because of delinquent taxes.

By comparison, the county began the foreclosure process on 42,000 properties in 2013 and 56,000 properties this year.

The treasurer’s office is targeting every property owner who is at least three years behind on taxes as Detroit embarks on an aggressive plan to eliminate blight and recover lost revenue under Mayor Mike Duggan.

“We have decided to foreclose on everything,” Chief Deputy Treasurer David Szymanski told me. “In 2008 and 2009, finances were so tight that people had to decide between eating and paying taxes in Detroit.”

But, Szymanski said, “The economy has improved.”

The treasurer’s office said it’s important to begin the foreclosure process because it often prompts people to pay their bills. It’s also important because homeowners are eligible for assistance under the Step Forward Program, but not until the legal process has begun.

“If someone can’t pay their taxes, they really shouldn’t own a home,” Szymanski said, adding that the county offers payment plans. “We have a culture that has grown to expect that taxes are optional.”

The county began sending out crews to knock on doors and erect foreclosure signs on the affected properties. The county also is notifying property owners by regular and registered mail.

Szymanski said the treasurer’s office is sensitive to the struggles of residents but said it’s critical that the county recover delinquent taxes to pay for vital services such as police and fire protection.

“We can’t provide services without taxes,” he said.

Related: 25 bargains and busts in 2014 county tax sale

Steve Neavling

Steve Neavling lives and works in Detroit as an investigative journalist. His stories have uncovered corruption, led to arrests and reforms and prompted FBI investigations.

  • SallyinChicago

    Perhaps after foreclosing the County will rent the properties back to the owners?

  • shavers313

    The foreclosure is a necessary evil. smh

  • marco baroli

    Why pay for such things as taxes and water? Civil rights baby.

  • cariguy

    Considering the majority of the rest of Wayne County pay their taxes, why should they get away with it in the city of Detroit.?

  • Geri Strecker

    For vacant lots and rental properties, this threat might make sense, but when homeowners are that far down, it’s too hard to get up. The city should offer a special deal for occupant-owned non-rental properties to let people make a fresh start. Clear the slate and let Detroit keep some of its residents. Population decline might be a worse problem than back taxes. Can the city afford to chase out any more residents? Collecting future taxes on a property and retaining people to work and spend locally makes more sense than spending tens of thousands on foreclosure proceedings and demolition.

    • shavers313

      The city is actually prepared to loose more residents to the suburbs or entirely out the state. The foreclosure is a necessary evil.

    • SallyinChicago

      No, the city should foreclose and then rent the properties back to the ex-owners.

  • … But, Szymanski said, “The economy has improved.”

    Meanwhile another 100,000 people dropped out of the labor force last month and the labor participation rate continues to tumble to nearly a 40 year low. And given the demographics of the city I suspect it continues to contribute more than its’ fair share to that total decline.

  • ruffinoruffino

    Delinquent taxes? How about delinquent city services?

    • Nathan A

      If there’s no money to pay city workers, then services will be delinquent.

  • bebow

    The Detroit News recently reported 20,000 tax delinquent Detroit properties, subject to the amended 2011 auction rules, will be foreclosed in January. Is this group included in the 70,000 mentioned? Will the properties be bundled to thwart slumlords? Will occupants be removed from the foreclosed properties?

    • muckraker_steve

      Great questions, Bebow. Those properties are different, so that actually puts the 70,000 figure at 90,000. I will ask about the bundling and removing the occupants. Traditionally, people aren’t removed from their homes if the properties aren’t sold in the auction. But a lot has changed, especially with the Land Bank. There are a lot of questions to be answered over the next few months. This could be devastating.

      • bebow

        I’ve already been devastated. If the city fails to remove the criminal menace, I’m leaving when my business is concluded. It’s clear the DPD has no intention of enforcing the law, quite the opposite, if you know what I’m saying.

  • codfilet

    Perhaps the city ought to address the insane tax rates and assessments on these properties?

    • Muhammad Mojaradi

      exactly what I was thinking

    • JC

      Someone needs to introduce Szymanski to the Laffer Curve.

    • muckraker_steve

      The city is actually in the process of doing that now. It is going to lead to a massive loss in revenue, but it is the only fair thing to do.

      • Aanna1123

        Please help me understand why I have to pay City of Detroit taxes when I don’t live in the city? Thank you

        • John T. Feret

          Well, if you own property, then you pay tax on that property regardless of whether you live there or not.

          If you do not own property and your question is to the income tax, then your question is posed in an inappropriate place as this is a story about property taxes.