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Wayne County set to foreclose on a record 75,000 properties

Wayne County plans to foreclose on a record number of properties next year.

The county has begun issuing notices to almost 75,000 properties for delinquent taxes. Of those, more than 80%--about 62,000—are located in Detroit.

The county is required, by state law, to auction off all properties at least three years behind on property taxes.

In recent years, Wayne County treasurer Raymond Wojtowicz has declined to do so, saying he simply didn’t have the staff to handle such huge numbers. But this year, in conjunction with Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan’s new anti-blight initiatives, he’s decided to tackle the whole batch.

Jerry Paffendorf tracks the Wayne County tax foreclosure process with the group Loveland Technologies. He cross-checked the list of Detroit properties with data from the Motor City Mapping Project, which looks at blight and occupancy indicators in the city.

“We see out of that list of 62,000 properties, about 36,000 of them are occupied residential homes,” Paffendorf says.

Using census data showing average occupancy rates in Detroit homes, Paffendorf estimates that more than 97,000 people—about 1 in 7 Detroiters—faces at least the possibility of losing a home to tax foreclosure.

That number is likely to shrink considerably before next year’s foreclosure auction rolls around. And Duggan has said he’s committed to keeping “as many people as possible” in their homes.

Duggan also says he’s working with state lawmakers to change the tax foreclosure laws before year’s end, and get more help for those affected. But there’s no clear plan yet.

Ted Phillips, executive director of the United Community Housing Coalition in Detroit, says everyone has known for years that the system is broken. But even with foreclosure numbers swelling from just over in Wayne County 50,000 this year, there’s been no real movement to reform it.

“Going from 52,000 to 75,000, which is nearly a 50% increase…I keep hoping,” Phillips said. “But no, I don’t see a lot of progress in that area.”

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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