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More than 1,100 Detroit homeowners have taken steps to potentially wipe out their property tax debt by tapping a new fund announced less than a week ago. 

At least 191 of those homeowners appear to qualify for the new Detroit Tax Relief Fund that is being paid for by the Gilbert Family Foundation, the philanthropic arm of Quicken Loans founder Dan Gilbert, a foundation spokesperson said Tuesday. 


Gilbert and his wife, Jennifer Gilbert,  announced last week that their foundation is donating $15 million to pay the back property taxes for up to 20,000 low-income Detroit households and investing $500 million in the city’s neighborhoods  The fund “hotline” that went live at 8 a.m.  Thursday has received  2,989 total calls since Monday evening, according to foundation officials. Some of the calls were hang-ups or made after-hours, officials said. 

There have been 993 referrals to the two programs that homeowners must first be approved of before being accepted into the Tax Relief Fund. The referrals meant the homeowners were likely eligible for the programs, which in turn means they may qualify for assistance from the fund, the foundation spokesperson said.

The two programs, one run by the City of Detroit and the other by Wayne County, reduces a homeowner’s property tax debt but often does not wipe it out completely, which is the goal of the new tax relief fund. 

One is the Homeowner’s Property Tax Assistance Program (HPTAP). That’s the City of Detroit’s initiative that exempts or lowers property tax bills for the current year, but not for previous years. It’s based on household income or circumstances. For the full tax exemption, a family of two must have income of less than $21,205. The maximum income for a partial exemption of 25% is $26,205.

The second program is Wayne County’s Pay as You Stay (PAYS). It offers payment plans and eliminates penalties, interest and fees. 

The 993 households referred to HPTAP in just three business days would represent a sizable jump of the estimated 11,000 already approved for the program this year. 

There are 191 households that appear immediately eligible for the Tax Relief Fund. The number of households that have inquired and may be immediately eligible may be higher, foundation officials said Tuesday. That’s because the foundation is working with the Wayne Metro Community Action Agency (Wayne Metro) to administer the program. It’s unclear how many have reached out directly to the nonprofit about the new tax relief fund.

The tax relief fund hotline is staffed by the Gilbert entity Rock Connections. 

If you are interested in accessing property tax relief through the Detroit Tax Relief Fund, call 313-244-0274 or go to this link.

The total property tax debt owed by the 993 homeowners who appear eligible for HPTAP is $5.1 million, and the average back property tax debt is $5,135 per household.

If the homeowners get approved for HPTAP and PAYS, the $5.1 million of outstanding debt will likely be reduced to approximately $1.5 million. That $1.5 million could be eliminated by the new tax relief fund. 

Property tax foreclosures have plagued Detroit for 20 years, leaving tens of thousands of blighted and vacant homes. From 2002 to 2016, nearly 1 in 3 Detroit properties ended up in the annual Wayne County auction of tax foreclosed properties, according to City data. 

The City overtaxed more than 63,000 homeowners a total of $600 million between 2010 and 2016, a Detroit News investigation found. More than 92% of the 173,000 Detroit homes reviewed were found to be overtaxed by an average of $3,800.

Louis Aguilar is BridgeDetroit’s senior reporter. He covered business and development for the Detroit News, and is a former reporter for the Washington Post.

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