News

Wayne County Faces Record Number of Tax Foreclosures

February 4, 2015

By J. Carlisle Larsen


Residents take the escalator in Cobo to the Wayne County Tax Foreclosure Show-Cause Hearings


Tax foreclosures in Wayne County have been on the rise for more than more than a decade. Since 2003, the number of tax foreclosures has grown from fewer than 2000 to more than 75—with 62,000 in the city of Detroit alone. But the Wayne County Treasurer’s office and advocacy groups are holding hearings at Cobo Hall all this week to help residents owing back taxes avoid losing their homes.


Among the advocacy groups providing help at Cobo is the United Community Housing Coalition. Its director—Ted Philips—has been working with Wayne County since 2003 when the number of tax foreclosures in the county was 40 times smaller than it is today. He says calling the proceedings “hearings” can be a little confusing, since there are no judges or juries. They are more about making resources available for residents in economic distress.


“They can meet with the staff of the Treasurer,” Philips says. “And we will be there and a number of other advocacy organizations will be there to work with them to council them on what options they have and how they might get their home taken out of foreclosure and what they can do.”


"Property that is occupied usually is not destroyed and usually sells for more than property that is vacant when it goes to auction in the fall. So it’s in [Wayne County's] self-interest to keep them there. I think there’s a sincere concern about not displacing people, but even above and beyond that it’s in their self-interest.”

—Ted Philips, Director of the United Community Housing Coalition


People facing tax foreclosure received a yellow notice from the county notifying them about the show-cause hearings. One of the people seeking help at Cobo is Delano Baldwin. He’s trying to save the house his mother owned before she died. It’s on the east side of Detroit near 8 Mile. Baldwin says he’s taking advantage of the free legal advice available at Cobo to learn about the proper way to take ownership of the house.


“I’ve been in this house for 40 years,” Baldwin says. “I refuse to let anybody or anything happen to come take it from up under me. And just because she’s deceased…don’t mean the bills stop. Somebody’s gotta pick up where she left off at.”


“Then there are others where people owe forty, fifty, sixty-thousand dollars on property."

—David Szymanski, Wayne County Deputy Treasurer

Baldwin did not want to disclose how much back taxes he owed on the house. But he did say he would rather pay off the debt in a lump sum instead of setting up a payment plan with the county. Wayne County Deputy Treasurer David Szymanski says there is a range of county tax debts that are represented at the hearings.


“This year some people owe less than one hundred dollars. And we’re very careful with those. Those tend to be properties that have actually been abandoned by the owner. And so we want to clean up that inventory. So somebody comes in and says—you know— ‘I really want to keep this property’, we’ll work with them,” Szymanski says.


But he adds some residents owe significantly more.


“Then there are others where people owe forty, fifty, sixty-thousand dollars on property. I haven’t seen any industrial property with huge tax bills yet, but that’s probably because those people aren’t coming down to this hearing,” Szymanski says. “But the people with residential property, most of them are probably in the four to eight thousand dollar range.”


Ted Philips—again—says it’s in Wayne County’s best interest to work with people going through the foreclosure process and either work out a payment method, or reach an agreement to let them stay in foreclosed homes. He says he believes that Wayne County sincerely wants to keep residents in their homes.


“As a practical matter, they take ownership April first. The Wayne County Treasurer does not go in trying to evict everybody that’s in a home that they’ve taken ownership of and it would be crazy to do that,” Philips says. “Because property that is occupied usually is not destroyed and usually sells for more than property that is vacant when it goes to auction in the fall. So it’s in their self-interest to keep them there. I think there’s a sincere concern about not displacing people, but even above and beyond that it’s in their self-interest.”



“I’ve been in this house for 40 years and I refuse to let anybody or anything happen to come take it from up under me. And just because she’s deceased, don’t mean the bills stop. Somebody’s gotta pick up where she left off at…”

—Delano Baldwin, Detroit Resident


Both Philips and Wayne County Deputy Treasurer David Szymanski credit new state legislation with easing some of the tax burden on Wayne County residents. One part of the law allows the county to reduce the tax interest rate from 18% to 6%. That rate is applied retroactively to the taxes owed. The second part of the law caps the amount of money owed if the taxes, fees, and interest exceed a certain percentage of the home’s value. While the show-cause hearings at Cobo Center end on Friday, there are other opportunities to meet with Wayne County officials on Saturdays in February at various locations around the county.