From the January-February 2021 issue of News & Letters
“What’s going on in Detroit? Since the Great Recession, 100,000 (one in three) Detroit families have lost their homes. We
call it a hurricane without water.” Dr. Bernadette Atuahene, Professor of Law at Chicago-Kent College of Law and author of We Want What’s Ours: Learning from South Africa’s Land Restitution Program spoke live on YouTube on Jan. 13.
Dr. Atuahene explained that when housing prices plummeted in the Great Recession1One residence purchased in 2003 for $80,000 was valued below $20,000 after the Recession., Detroit homes continued to be assessed as if no change in market value had occurred. Detroit’s property tax rate is one of the highest in the nation. Meanwhile the city was going through the largest municipal bankruptcy in the country and under emergency management there was no capacity, no will and no control over the assessor’s office to make the required assessment adjustments.2Detroit property values have not recovered; that same residence is now listed as $25,000.
In Michigan it is illegal to assess property at more than 50% of its value. Atuahene’s research found 55-85% of properties were illegally over-assessed. Furthermore, the lowest-valued homes were 95% over-assessed. Between 2010 and 2016, $600 million in taxes was illegally collected and lost to homeowners. Over-assessment accounts for 10% of all reasons for Detroit foreclosures.
The Coalition for Property Tax Justice has three demands: that Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan, up for re-election, create a fund to compensate homeowners; that the Wayne County COVID-19 moratorium on evictions continue until it is proved that properties were assessed correctly; and that Governor Whitmer require the state tax commission to enforce the Constitution.
Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib added that 40% of Black-owned homes were lost in Michigan, the most in the country. “Black Lives Matter means Black Homes Matter; we’re going to keep having these town halls to speak the truth….Shame on those who pretend it didn’t happen. If anything shows how broken these systems are, this does.”
Reverend Barber from North Carolina described systemic racism as “theft and death.” In 2009, banks were bailed out but homeowners were kicked out. There’s a collusion between banks, the government and investors who swoop down and buy these homes cheaply. We need the moratorium on evictions to continue: eight million people have fallen into poverty and 30 million face eviction. The movement responds when a man is killed on camera; we need to respond to these kinds of deaths as well.
For more information contact the Coalition for Property Tax Justice, illegalforeclosures.org.