ACLU: Thousands could lose Wayne County homes from inflated tax assessments

The ACLU filing suit on behalf of Detroit homeowners -- they say thousands of families will soon be forced out of their homes by tax forclosure.

The ACLU filing suit on behalf of Detroit homeowners -- they say thousands of families will soon be forced out of their homes by tax foreclosure.

But they also claim those taxes should never have been assessed in the first place.

"The assessments have been crazy high," said Michael Steinberg, ACLU legal director.

How crazy ? The city says this house has a true cash value of about $40,000.  But, Mr. Hicks, the owner says:

"I got it appraised for $9,000, so that's $31,000 above the value of the house," he said.

And Mr. Hicks is worried about losing the house in foreclosure.  Now, the ACLU is bringing a class action lawsuit alleging property in Wayne County, but especially in Detroit, have not been properly assessed in years.

"It is illegal, because under state law a city cannot charge somebody taxes based on the amount in excess of true cash value of their homes," Steinberg said.

But there's another problem. Any household income under $16,000 should get a poverty exemption and shouldn't pay any property taxes.

"The system has been convoluted and difficult that very few people have actually been able to gain the benefit of this program," Steinberg said.

The Wayne County Treasurer is named in the lawsuit but he says it's the city that assesses homes. The county just does the foreclosures.

FOX 2: Is your home worth the same in Detroit as it was a few years ago?"

"Of course not," said Eric Sabree, Wayne County treasurer. "No home in Detroit is worth what it was in 2008-2009."

FOX 2: Did you get your taxes lowered?"

"I went to the tax tribunal," Sabree said.
           
Mr. Hicks did go to the tax tribunal to try to get his assessment lowered. But that process is very burdensome. Mr. Hicks says the city should assess the true value of the homes anyway."

The city of Detroit issued a statement saying that the ACLU's claims are "fatally flawed." And preventing foreclosures is one of Mayor Mike Duggan's  highest priorities.  Yet the lawsuit also alleges that there is a disproportionate number of African-Americans that face foreclosure.


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