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Detroit hires independent evaluator to examine whether property assessments are fair

Lester Graham
Michigan Radio

The city of Detroit has hired an independent evaluator — months after it was supposed to under a city ordinance — to look at whether the city is assessing homes at their true market value.

According to a property tax reform ordinance the Detroit City Council passed last year, the evaluator was supposed to be hired in February. But the council only approved a contract to bring an evaluator onboard Tuesday.

Detroiter Aliya Moore spoke during the public comment period at the meeting where the city council approved the evaluator's contract. She told council members that she almost lost her home in the wake of the Great Recession. That’s when the city over-assessed many properties, leading in some cases to inflated property tax bills and a wave of tax foreclosures.

“If it wasn't for the grace of God and a very close friend of mine that gave me some money to start a payment plan, I would have lost my property,” Moore said. “I saw many others losing their properties, both old and young.”

Moore said the effect on her community was devastating, but the city can now take a step toward making things right.

“My neighbors value their home[s],” Moore said. “And it is very important to continue the generational wealth, and to keep properties in families to hand them down so that we can continue to grow as a city.”

It’s widely acknowledged that Detroit property assessments are now much more accurate than they were in the period between roughly 2010 and 2016, when the city overtaxed Detroit homeowners by an estimated $600 million, and Wayne County foreclosed on about one-third of all Detroit properties.

But groups led by the Coalition for Property Tax Justice argue that the city assessor’s office continues to over-value the city’s least expensive properties. Their claim is backed by at least one academic study, but officials in Mayor Mike Duggan’s administration adamantly deny that over-assessment is an ongoing problem.

The coalition and other groups have pushed for Detroit to compensate formerly overtaxed homeowners — an idea the Duggan administration says would be unaffordable, unfair, and potentially a violation of state law.

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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