‘Black Homes Matter’: Detroit advocates speak out on foreclosures, assessments

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Amid ongoing protests for equitable housing policy, defunding police and restoration of water service in Detroit, 14 local grassroots organizations hosted the Champion of the People Awards to thank six Detroit women of color for their commitment to equitable change.

The coalition is demanding that the county end tax foreclosure, that the governor form a task force to investigate tax injustice and the mayor create a plan to compensate Detroit homeowners who have lost their homes. 

Senator Stephanie Chang

The awards were hosted by the Coalition for Property Tax Justice and held through a Zoom conference call in late July due to the coronavirus pandemic. Organizers highlighted the advocacy work and policy implementations women of color in Detroit have led to create change regarding property tax foreclosure. U.S. Rep. Rashida Talib, Sen. Stephanie Chang, and City Council President Pro Tem Mary Sheffield were among those recognized.

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Detroiters have long advocated for policy changes to keep residents in their homes. The city’s housing movement gained even more support after the city was exposed for wrongfully overassessing properties that resulted in thousands of property tax foreclosures in 2017. 

Last month, Michigan’s Supreme Court determined tax-foreclosed properties ineligible for county profit without compensating the original homeowner. The decision came from a landmark case, Rafaeli LLC v. Oakland County, where property owners owed just $8.41 in property taxes and fees, lost the home in foreclosure, and the county resold the property for $24,500.

The case itself lends the opportunity for Detroiters to find justice within the tax foreclosure system that has, for decades, profited off residents’ inability to pay. Now, local municipalities will have to find a way to compensate former homeowners whose properties sold for profit at county auctions.Local activists say the marathon continues to apply pressure to the Legislature for statewide policy change and reparations for homeowners.

Law professor, film director and activist Bernadette Atuahene

Bernadette Atuahene, a law professor, film director and activist, said during the awards that 1 in 4 Detroit properties are subject to property tax foreclosure in-part to over-assessment. 

Even though Wayne County has a moratorium on property tax foreclosures through the end of 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic, Atuahene says the city continues to illegally inflate property taxes.

Atuahene said Detroiters deserve restitution for healing and for recognition. She told conference call participants that Black lives and Black homes matter and that the deposition in urban communities must end.

“It includes racial zoning, it includes racially restrictive covenants, urban renewal, redlining, blockbusting, predatory mortgage lending, and until we say enough is enough it will continue,” she said. “This will just be another chapter in this longer history, and to ensure this stops and stops now, that’s why compensation is so important.”

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