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Protesters to Wayne County treasurer: Put a temporary stop to "illegal" foreclosures

Anti-foreclosure activists in front of Wayne County Treasurer Eric Sabree's home.
Sarah Cwiek
Michigan Radio
Anti-foreclosure activists in front of Wayne County Treasurer Eric Sabree's home.

Anti-foreclosure protesters targeted Wayne County treasurer Eric Sabree where he lives—outside his Detroit home—on Thursday, calling for an end to “illegal” property tax foreclosures.

A reportand lawsuit claims that Detroit over-assessed up to 85% of homes in the city from 2009-2015. That violates the Michigan state constitution, which caps local tax assessments at 50% of a property’s market value.

During that time, about 1 in 4 Detroit properties were lost to tax foreclosure.Those are numbers not seen since the Great Depression, says Bernadette Atuahene, a professor at the Illinois Institute of Technology’s Kent College of Law and one of the report’s authors.

Atuahene says low-income property owners were hit the hardest, with many more low-value properties assessed at illegally high levels. That caused some people to owe much more in taxes than their homes were worth.

Atuahene says the protest in front of Sabree’s relatively high-value house was meant to drive home the point “that it’s not equal amongst all Detroiters. It’s Detroiters with the lowest-value homes who are subject to these unconstitutional property tax assessments.”

But for now, the protesters want Sabree to withdraw owner-occupied homes from the upcoming Wayne County tax foreclosure auction, something Atuahene says he “absolutely has the legal authority” to do.

“People need to pay taxes, but they need to pay their fair taxes,” Atuahene said.

“We want to make sure no one was charged illegal taxes. We want to make sure that no one has accumulated interest on illegal taxes. Take them out of the auction until we can clean this mess up.”

But by putting tax-delinquent homes up for auction after three years, Sabree is only following the process outlined in state law, said spokesman Mario Morrow.

Sabree has “done an absolutely wonderful job” to reduce tax foreclosures during less in than two years as treasurer, Morrow says. He’s helped thousands of people avoid foreclosure, at least temporarily, with payment plans, and urged state legislators to lower the interest charged on back taxes.

But, “He can’t stop foreclosures,” Morrow said.  “It’s mandated. He’s a tax collector. That’s his job. You don’t pay taxes, you suffer the consequences.”

The first round of the annual online foreclosed property auction starts next Tuesday.

Sarah Cwiek joined Michigan Public in October 2009. As our Detroit reporter, she is helping us expand our coverage of the economy, politics, and culture in and around the city of Detroit.
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