Home “Buy-Back” Program Result of ACLU Lawsuit

Even before the recession, Detroit homeowners began to lose their homes through subprime deals and illegally and overassessed property taxes. By 2015 there were almost 25,000 tax foreclosures; this year it’s estimated that there are 4,700. Since it is estimated that one out of three is an occupied home this will further destabilize neighborhoods across the city.

In 2016 the ACLU of Michigan, the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund, and the Covington law firm filed a lawsuit to prevent more homeowners from losing their homes to illegal tax foreclosures. The lawsuit described two major causes of the foreclosures: Detroit’s failure to follow state law that property taxes be based on the real cash value of the home and it made it very difficult for poor homeowners to file for a “poverty exemption.”

At the beginning of July 2018 ACLU and the city settled by making the poverty tax exemption accessible in several important ways—by having the application on the City of Detroit’s Accessor’s website, by training all of its staff, by sending out notices, by simplifying the application process.

For those homeowners whose homes are up for the Wayne County auction this September and October, the city imposed a month’s deadline for owner/occupants to apply for a “buy-back” program outlined in the settlement. Those eligible for a poverty exemption in any year between 2014-17 but who didn’t receive one can bring their deed along with specific financial information. They are to take that paperwork to United Community Housing Coalition (2727 Second Avenue, Room 313. This is near Masonic Temple and Cass High School. 313-963-3310, ext. 339; register@uchcdetroit.org).

Community activists put enough pressure on the mayor’s office so the deadline was extended to August 24—merely one month more to reach an estimated 700-1500 families. A more obvious solution to keeping people in their homes would have been to pull all occupied residential properties from this year’s auction.

Although the city supposedly sent a mailer to every house that is on the 2018 auction website, many homes did not receive the information. Detroit Eviction Defense, along with many other community organizations, is using Loveland maps to canvas these homeowners. We outline the specific information requested and explain they need to take their information to UCHC. There they will fill out their application, and also file to have their 2018 property taxes reduced. Best time to arrive is 8-8:30PM Monday, Wednesday or Friday mornings. They open at 9AM.

Since the program for taking their homes out of the auction is a “buy-back” program the city has set up with funds from the city and foundations. Given that there is less than half a million dollars, the program is inadequately funded. The city will erase the back taxes and return the deed to the owner/occupant, but the homeowner is responsible for paying $1,000. UCHC encourages homeowners to come with a $500 money order, but canvassers encourage all homeowners to apply and bring what they can.

What to bring: proof of ownership (deed, land contract, court order), proof of residence (current photo ID or driver’s license for all adults, report card, transcript or healthcare records for children 5-17), proof of occupancy (DTE bill and water bill), proof of income (federal and/or state income tax return, W-2, paystubs, SSI/SSD statement, pension, food stamp award letter, child support), proof of expenses (medical bills, insurance, loans, credit cards, utility bills), proof of assets (bank statement, insurance letters, 401k statement).

In fact, while the program is for homeowners who occupy the home, some assistance is available for non-deedholders, including renters.

Application to the program also includes a mandatory one-hour workshop that UCHC is holding at their office. The final dates are:

Tuesday, August 21, 5PM

Wednesday, August 22, 11AM

Friday, August 24, 11AM

Neighborhood Workshops:

Saturday, August 18, 1PM–Northwest Activities Center, 18100 Meyers Rd, Space 10

Wednesday, August 22, 6PM–Samaritan Center, 5555 Conner St., Kilpatrick Room

Please arrive at least 30 minutes early.


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