volunteers
Detroit Right to Council Coalition member Evan Villeneuve, center, talks with volunteers, from left, Geri Warren, Jerome Hunt and Shapri Hunt while explaining the section of Martin Luther King I & II homes in Detroit where they will pass out flyers about federal rent aid to residents on Friday, September 24, 2021. (Ryan Garza, Detroit Free Press)

A ruling from a judge Tuesday will keep some owner-occupied properties in Wayne County out of tax foreclosure through next March.  

Wayne County Treasurer Eric Sabree said Tuesday he petitioned the 3rd Circuit Court to not foreclose on owner-occupied homes owing back taxes from 2017 to 2019 because many taxpayers didn’t fill out applications for a statewide relief program and need more time and help. 

The extension runs through March 31, 2023. That includes 1,800 owner-occupied properties that are mostly in Detroit, Sabree estimates. 

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“A lot of people are applying for the funds from those years and they’re either not notifying us or not sure that they’re supposed to notify us and we’re afraid that a lot of people have applied and we don’t know about (them),” Sabree said Tuesday. 

The order, granted by Wayne County Circuit Judge Timothy M. Kenny, does not apply to property owners with tax debt in 2016 or prior and does not include nonowner-occupied properties, such as rentals.

The ruling came amid a fast approaching Thursday deadline for Wayne County residents with property tax debt from 2019 or prior years to pay off back taxes or enter into a payment plan to avoid foreclosure. 

Sabree had previously said he was sticking to the deadline. In the past, there were extensions. 

Word that certain foreclosures would be halted came just hours after a resolution by Detroit City Council members was unanimously passed Tuesday, and after some community advocates urged Sabree to extend a moratorium on property tax foreclosures of owner-occupied homes this year, while the COVID-19 pandemic continues. 

Tax foreclosure is the process by which a homeowner loses their property because they didn’t pay their property taxes.

In 2020, there were no foreclosures because of the pandemic’s economic blow. And last year, Sabree filed a request in Wayne County Circuit Court to defer foreclosures on occupied properties because of continuing pandemic-related hardships even though foreclosures on unoccupied properties and vacant land continued. That suspension period runs through Thursday. 

As of Tuesday — prior to the ruling — there were fewer than 2,500 owner-occupied and roughly 4,000 nonowner-occupied properties — including rentals — at risk of foreclosure this year, according to Sabree.

Community groups doing direct outreach said Tuesday they need more time to reach people. 

“What we’re discovering is that most of these are not people who are just delinquent because they didn’t bother to pay. They’re delinquent for some complicated reason — job loss during the virus or reduced income or increased expenses,” said Angela Wilson, chief operating officer for the Eastside Community Network. 

Sabree cited the continuing economic hardship of the pandemic in announcing the decision to not foreclose on certain homes.

The Detroit-based nonprofit — offering resources and programs for economic development, businesses and youths — has been calling up residents and knocking on doors since earlier this month to inform them about the upcoming deadline and their options. 

The group has called more than 1,000 residents at risk of foreclosure, knocked on about 700 doors and helped roughly 100 people in their office apply for statewide grants helping homeowners with delinquent property tax debt, Wilson said. 

“Community organizations are just asking for more time to put residents, homeowners in touch with these resources,” Bernadette Atuahene, of the grassroots Coalition for Property Tax Justice, said during Tuesday’s City Council meeting.

The state launched a program earlier this year called the Michigan Homeowner Assistance Fund (MIHAF) that can help income-eligible Wayne County residents who live in their homes avoid foreclosure for another year, regardless of the tax year. To apply go to Michigan.gov/MIHAF. Call 844-756-4423 for additional help. 

Forward a copy of the verification via email with name, property address and parcel identification number and MIHAF confirmation number to MIHAF.WCTO@waynecounty.com.

Nushrat Rahman covers issues related to economic mobility for the Detroit Free Press and BridgeDetroit as a corps member with Report for America, an initiative of The GroundTruth Project.

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