New Orleans For lower income and working families in these days of escalating rents and no money flowing in the credit deserts, the old saying that if it “weren’t for bad news, there wouldn’t be any news at all” feels too much like an everyday story. In Detroit and Cincinnati recently, there was some good news that should create some hope for some families trying to keep homes out of foreclosure or buy homes through installment land contracts.
The Detroit story is a hard one to get your arms around, like so many things in Detroit. The topline is that a suit led by the ACLU reached a settlement with the City of Detroit that may allow some families to stay in their homes. As the Detroit News summarized,
The ACLU sued the city in Wayne County Circuit Court two years ago over how it administered the state-mandated property tax break for the poor, arguing it was inaccessible to the vast majority of homeowners who were needlessly losing their homes to foreclosure.
To be clear, the city didn’t allow lower income families to get the property tax exemption approved in state law and instead tallied the delinquent property taxes for several years and then after being in arrears for more than three years, foreclosed on the houses and put them up for sale at tax auction. Nothing pretty about that story. It’s almost a Ripley “believe or not” tale.
The settlement forces the city to have to step up. As the Detroit News reports:
Under the plan, a group of homes headed to this year’s fall tax auction will instead be bought by the city and sold to owner-occupants who prove they qualified for the city’s poverty tax exemption, which lowers or eliminates tax bills.
All good so far, though it gets tricky. Families that can prove that they were wronged have to buy back the homes for $1000, which, frankly, I don’t understand at all. The money they say is going to come from private foundations. The whole affair is being administered by some fantastic folks the ACORN Home Savers Campaign was privileged to meet earlier in the campaign at the United Community Housing Coalition. UCHC has already qualified about one-hundred families. There are more than 4000 homes scheduled for the fall auction with over 2000 occupied by owners or renters, so of course there is concern that there may be more people trying to win justice under the settlement than there is money available from foundations, but fingers crossed. This is still good news and the city can’t claim to be protecting home owners from foreclosure even while cheating them earlier so I’m sure there will be a fix if there’s a shortfall.
In Cincinnati, an ordinance was passed unanimously to assure that any house offered under an installment land contract had to first establish that it was up to code. Given the history of how companies have operated there, this is also a good step forward.
In both cities these are steps forward and offer hope of more progress for lower income tenants, potential homeowners, and existing homeowners in the future.