Riverfront event offers advice on Detroit’s tax burden – as well as pizza


Detroit – Volunteers on Saturday offered water, pizza and hope along the river to a small number of residents struggling with their property taxes.

The Coalition for Property Tax Justice organized what was billed as a sort of protest at Robert C. Valade Park, but rather turned out to be a clearinghouse for information and inspiration.

The coalition and others insist that Detroit illegally overvalues ​​homeowners, especially in the lower end of the market. The city says otherwise: “We completely reject any suggestion that this city continues to overvalue property,” said Detroit appraiser Alvin Horhn.

All Yvonne Tucker knows is that she can’t cope with both current taxes and arrears – and she’s been told the city owes her more than double her annual bill.

Tucker, 63, sat down with representatives from the nonprofit Wayne Metropolitan Community Action (WMCA) on Saturday to explore his options, which could include a program that could reduce or eliminate his debt and one that l ‘would exempt from fees this year.

A Detroit resident for 58 years, she lives on the east side in a house she loves and a neighborhood that she loves less and less. Last week, she said, she saw two young men running down the streets with guns, just as her 13-year-old sons were due home from school.

“You mean to tell me I owe $ 3,000 a year for this?” ” she said.

Nicole Pouncy of the Detroit Tax Relief Fund chats with Frances Lewis, 85, a Detroit resident, during a property tax relief information event at Robert C. Valade Park in Detroit on September 18, 2021.

May be. But as program director Nicole Pouncy of the Detroit Tax Relief Fund said, the fund – powered by the Gilbert Family Foundation – can coordinate with city and county agencies to ease the tax burden.

Tucker, a retiree from the state unemployment agency, learned at a community meeting that she had been overcharged for already paid taxes of $ 7,100. She was unable to collect the refund, she said, or even get credit for current taxes.

The city recognized the problems before 2014, “and they are trying to right the wrongs,” Pouncy said. One problem is that programs like his look too much like call center frauds in India.

“They think it’s a scam,” she said. “It looks suspicious when someone calls and says, ‘No, we’re really going to pay off your debt to zero. “”

Wayne Metro Community Corps Program Coordinator Angela Buchanan, left, watches Community Resource Navigator Tonya Herron help Detroit resident Frances Lewis during an information event on property tax relief at the Robert C. Valade Park in Detroit on September 18, 2021.

Amid a gentle breeze and insistent bees, the coalition collected signatures for a petition “demanding compensation for Detroit homeowners affected by housing injustice,” and offered to join assistance from the Property Tax Appeals Project, made up of law students.

Some inequalities are both historical and undeniable. Sixth-generation Detroiter Edythe Ford, an officer with the nonprofit MACC Development from the east, noted that when his African-American grandfather returned from World War II, he was refused the benefits of the GI Bill, while white veterans were able to lay the groundwork. for generational wealth.

“They say they can’t reimburse you because of state tax law,” Ford said, whether for overcharging or less defined issues. “Detroit just needs to do something dynamic.”

Edythe Ford of the Coalition for Property Tax Justice said something bold and innovative must be done to tackle property tax assessments at a tax relief information event land at Robert C. Valade Park in Detroit on September 18, 2021.

Horhn acknowledged that city assessments were problematic before 2014, when Mayor Mike Duggan was elected for his first term. In April of the same year, “the state took over the assessor’s office,” “and they wouldn’t do it if everything was okay.”

“Everyone is painfully aware of what happened,” he said. The department was underfunded and understaffed, and “people lost their homes. People have been overtaxed ”.

But the surveillance ended after just two years instead of the planned four, he said, and his office offers a straightforward appeal process for homeowners who feel their tax bill is excessive.

Duggan cut property taxes by 20% shortly after taking office. A state-ordered reassessment of all residential properties in Detroit was completed in 2017, but thousands of homeowners faced foreclosure for back taxes.

A 2020 Detroit News survey found homeowners were overtaxed by at least $ 600 million in the years following the Great Recession. Activists say studies show the lower end of the housing market remains overpriced; Horhn cites figures that say otherwise.

West-sider Frances Lewis, 85, only knows she needs help.

“I have been paying taxes on my house for 51 years,” she said on Saturday. “I don’t want to lose it.”

The purple-shirted WMCA volunteers suggested a few options, she said. One even stepped out from behind a table to tie Lewis’ shiny gold sneakers.

“I think,” Lewis said, “I’m a little less worried.”

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Twitter: @nealrubin_dn

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