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Wayne County tax foreclosures down again, but "still a huge problem"

blighted home in Detroit
Bridge Magazine

Wayne County will foreclose on fewer Detroit homes this year for the fourth straight year, according to numbers the Wayne County Treasurer’s Office provided on Friday.

Wayne County has 3,023 residential Detroit properties on its tax foreclosure list right now. 1,083 of them are believed to be occupied homes.

The number of occupied homes ultimately foreclosed on will likely come down by more than 500, because of a home buy-back program run by the city of Detroit and the United Community Housing Coalition.

As recently as 2015, Wayne County foreclosed on nearly 25,000 properties, more than 9,000 of them occupied.

UCHC Executive Director Ted Phillips says there’s been “a tremendous amount of work done to lower the number of homes going to auction in the fall. And that’s good.”

But Phillips adds: “While there’s been progress, we could slide back incredibly easily.”

He notes that tens of thousands of Detroit properties consistently remain three years delinquent on property taxes each year, making them subject to possible foreclosure. Wayne County sent more than 34,000 foreclosure notices to Detroit properties for the 2019 tax cycle, and Phillips says that number is expected to rise for the upcoming cycle.

Also, “Sometimes the reason there are fewer occupied homes going to foreclosure is that when people get notice and think there’s no option, they move out,” Phillips said. “So it’s still a huge problem. We’ve made a lot of progress, but it’s still a huge problem.”

Wayne County Treasurer Eric Sabree credits the buy-back program, increased outreach to delinquent homeowners, payment kiosks around the city, and text message reminders to homeowners on payment plans for bringing foreclosure numbers down.

“Things are going in the right direction," Sabree said. "But the closer we get to zero, the more difficult it is to make progress.”

“Next year, we’re going to start [outreach] even earlier. Sometimes, knocking on the doors and doing everything possible, people still don’t respond. I don’t understand it, but that’s what we’re dealing with. We’re making a difference, but not the kind of response you’d want to get when we’re talking about losing your home.”

Some observers have questioned the process by which Sabree’s office whittles down foreclosure numbers throughout the course of the year, and whether indeed there is a formal process for doing that.

Sabree says many people are put on payment plans. He also suggested that “people use the tax system as a form of credit,” delaying payment until they accrue delinquencies—then paying them off, with interest. “That’s part of the reason there’s such a drastic drop,” he said.

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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