Why Detroit council rejected the mayor’s proposal to aid overtaxed homeowners

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City Council voted down a resolution seeking to give relief to Detroiters whose properties were overtaxed from 2010 to 2013. The resolution, which also included job and affordable housing opportunities, was designed to alleviate the financial burden of Detroiters who were overtaxed by an estimated $600 million. 

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Housing advocates opposed the plan and said owners were overtaxed until at least 2016 and the city is underestimating the length of time Detroit was impacted. 

The city’s home values began to decline in 2008 during the nation’s Great Recession, according to activists. 

Several council members and activists said during Tuesday’s meeting that the resolution also didn’t adequately address the problems it was written to help solve.

After hours of discussion, the council rejected the resolution by a 5-4 vote. President Brenda Jones, Pro-Tem Mary Sheffield and members James Tate, Raquel Castaneda-Lopez and Roy McCalister Jr. voted no.

The resolution was to be funded with a one-time $6 million appropriation of surplus dollars from the city’s 2020 fiscal year budget, money that council member Castaneda-Lopez and others said wasn’t enough money to address the money and property lost by many Detroiters.

Marie Sheehan, a University of Michigan Law School student and the director of the Property Tax Appeals Project for the Coalition for Property Tax Justice, says the resolution didn’t go far enough.

“The city’s parcel-by-parcel reappraisal was not completed until 2017, meaning that homeowners were impacted by the city’s overassessments until at least 2016. As such, the resolution should, at a minimum, provide compensation for homeowners affected between 2008 and 2016,” Sheehan said. 

Sheehan also says the 2010 to 2013 timeframe isn’t supported by any data regarding the properties that were overtaxed. 

“This hides the fact that the city was wildly overassessing the lowest valued homes while it was under assessing the highest valued homes,” she said. 

Council President Pro-Tem Sheffield also wants the timeframe expanded to include people affected from 2008 to 2016. She says an amended version of the resolution probably won’t be brought before council again until next year. 

One point of debate during the meeting was whether it would be better to pass the resolution and do something to give some people relief more quickly, or wait until the resolution included the proper number of people affected. 

Arthur Jemison, the city’s group executive for Housing, Planning and Development, argued at the meeting that it’s better for city council to do something about tax foreclosure than to do nothing for now. 

“I’m eager to get started in delivering benefits to people because that’s what I think this is about,” Jemison said. 

Sheffield is unsure if any additional funding sources will be included in an amended version, another point of contention during the meeting.

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