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New Detroit property tax proposal is in the works

An empty home in a Detroit neighborhood.
Jodi Westrick
Michigan Radio
An empty home in a Detroit neighborhood.

Relief could be on the horizon for Detroit homeowners who missed their chance to apply for a property tax exemption. 

The Homeowners Property Tax Assistance Program offers relief to low income Detroit homeowners who can't afford their property taxes. But a lot of people don't know about it. And homeowners have to re-apply every year. 

Many people who could have qualified for relief didn't know about it to begin with, had trouble completing the application process, or didn't know they needed to re-apply and lost the exemption after having initially qualified.

Willie Donwell is on the city board that manages the exemptions. He says tax foreclosures are contributing to blight in Detroit.

"When the person loses their home and that home becomes vacant--there is a high opportunity of that property becoming blighted. I mean almost immediately," says Donwell.

He says looters will often strip the home within days of it having been vacated, meaning the foreclosed home isn't providing any value to the city. Whereas if the homeowner remains in the home, they will ideally continue to maintain it and save the city the eventual cost of demolishing it.

Donwell is working on new legislation for those who missed out on the exemption. He says it could help keep some of Detroit's most vulnerable people in their homes.

These efforts have been criticized as creating inequity for those homeowners who have managed to keep up with their payments. Donwell says he is working to come up with a plan that is fair to everyone.

Ideally, when complete, the plan will be introduced to the Michigan legislature. A similar piece of legislation was introduced by state Rep. Wendell Byrd, D-Detroit three years ago, but stalled.