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State expands relief program for homeowners with past-due property taxes

A house  in Grand Rapids
Lindsey Smith
Michigan Radio

A state program is now available to more Detroiters and others who have back property tax debt.

The state received more than $242 million in American Rescue Plan funds from the federal government to administer the Michigan Homeowners Assistance Fund (MiHAP). Applicants must be homeowners who meet income qualifications and can demonstrate a hardship caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Applicants could get up to $25,000 for delinquent home-related expenses, including mortgage payments, utilities, and property taxes.

Initially, the program only offered property tax help going back to 2019, but advocates from Detroit and Wayne County successfully fought to open it up to debt from any year. Wayne Metro Community Action Agency CEO Louis Piszker said that’s important.

“Because the data was telling us that there was about 6,000 Detroiters that had past-due property taxes [from] 2019 and prior,” Piszker said. “If we did the rule change, it would stabilize everything and would be a game-changer for people.”

Tax foreclosure and property tax delinquency in Detroit have declined sharply in the past few years, after a horrific wave starting around the time of the Great Recession forced thousands of Detroiters from their homes, creating widespread instability and exacerbating blight. Many credit expanded assistance programs for the decline, including much more widespread access to the city’s HOPE property tax exemption for low-income homeowners.

Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib (D-Detroit) said activists should take credit for that success. She said there are now a number of tools at people’s disposal to avoid tax foreclosure, but getting the word out to them is critical.

“This is the livelihood of people's lives. It's a home,” Tlaib said. “And it is the only way that we can very much create stability for our families.”

Wayne County Treasurer Eric Sabree has agreed to withhold most owner-occupied homes from this year’s tax foreclosure auction so that owners can access the MiHAP program.

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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