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.
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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.
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.