A demonstration at the Wayne County treasurer’s home on Aug. 31 and a subsequent action at the treasurer’s office on Sept. 5 demanded that Wayne County Treasurer Eric Sabree suspend the auction of 3,100 homes, including 1,400 occupied homes, scheduled to begin Sept. 5 and to extend into October.
The suspension will give time for the Michigan State Housing Development Authority to seek federal approval for a plan to amend the Step Forward program, which administers the use of the federal Hardest Hit funds in Michigan.
At a meeting between the head of MSHDA, the MSHDA administrator of the Helping Hardest Hit program, and representatives of the Coalition to Stop Unconstitutional Tax Foreclosures on Aug. 30, the MSHDA agreed to have coalition members draft an amendment to the Step Forward rules.
The amendment would allow for Hardest Hit funds to be used for the city of Detroit and/or Wayne County to pay delinquent property tax bills if these entities exercise their right of first refusal on the 1,400 occupied homes facing auction, and then eviction, starting next week. Under Michigan law, either Wayne County or the city of Detroit can exercise their right of first refusal to pull occupied homes out of the auction.
The MSHDA said they would submit this proposal for approval by the Treasury. This was a major concession to anti-foreclosure activists led by the Moratorium NOW! Coalition, who have been fighting for use of the funds to save homes — as intended under the program.
At the meeting with the MSHDA, it was revealed that only 193 Wayne County families, of the thousands who have faced tax foreclosure this year, had received benefits from the Hardest Hit fund. This is a result of the Step Forward regulations being out of step with the reality of those facing the loss of their homes in Wayne County, and especially in Detroit.
It also came out that there is currently $130 million in unspent Hardest Hit funds available to keep families from losing their homes. In contrast, only $12 million is needed to pay the delinquent bills of the 1,400 families scheduled to see the homes they occupy auctioned off.
The agreement by the MSHDA to pursue using Hardest Hit funds to pay the delinquent taxes offers a practical way forward to save 1,400 more families from being thrown into the street. This plan would actually bring money into the treasuries of Wayne County and Detroit, who only stand to recover pennies on what are owed in delinquent taxes through the auction.
Once the delinquent taxes are paid, the occupants will have the opportunity to pursue poverty tax exemptions to which they are entitled and have their home assessments reset to the true market value, in conformity with the Michigan Constitution.
For more information on this struggle and the Moratorium NOW! Coalition, see moratorium-mi.org or facebook.com/MoratoriumNowCoalition/.