Homes are being tax auctioned out from under Detroiters. How much does the city care?

Homes are being tax auctioned out from under Detroiters. How much does the city care?

Born and raised Detroiter Albert Williams says he’s a fan of Mayor Mike Duggan because he thinks “he’s sticking up for the neighborhoods.” His mother Tommie Williams lives next door to her son in the Greenview neighborhood. She is more skeptical of Duggan. “We’ll see,” is all she will say.

COMMENTARY By Sarah Alvarez

Albert and Tommie Williams are about to see just how far the Duggan administration is willing to go in “sticking up for the neighborhoods.” Albert could lose his home in the tax foreclosure auction. He is hoping the city will step in and level the playing field for people like him – renters living in homes on the auction block – before that happens.

Williams started renting in 2013 on a lease-to-own contract. He wanted to live closer to his mother after his father passed away and felt lucky to find a place right next door.

Since he moved in he has paid his rent and spent money improving the place, putting in a new bathroom and patio and even planting a Japanese maple tree in the front yard. Meanwhile his landlord, who lives in California, hasn’t been current on his tax bill since he bought the place and let it be foreclosed on by Wayne County this year.

The city could step in and use the “Right of First Refusal” to keep occupied homes out of the tax auction.

The next step for the house is the September auction where Williams will be up against speculators just like the one who got him into this mess. He will bid on the home he lives in if there isn’t a Right of Refusal (ROR) in place. It is unsure if the former owner of the home will bid.

The city could step in and use the “Right of First Refusal” to keep occupied homes out of the tax auction. Renters could make a down payment to let the city know they want to keep their home out of the auction and then pay down the tax bill.

There are more than just a handful of people in this situation. Wayne County estimates more than 4,000 homes up for auction this fall have people living in them. The United Community Housing Coalition thinks more than half these people are renters.

Will the city step in for these residents?

Detroit Free Press Editorial Page Editor Stephen Henderson recently hosted Mayor Duggan on his WDET radio show and asked if the city wanted to keep occupied homes out of the auction this way. “I don’t even know how you would begin to do that,” Mayor Duggan answered. “I’ve got enough issues at the land bank.”

Housing advocates like those at the United Community Housing Coalition hope there is still a chance the city will step in and stand up for these renters.

“The city should be happy people still want to stay in the city,” says Tommie Williams. “Especially the people who have been struggling though everything all this time.”

Detroit has until the end of July to make a decision about whether or not they will use the right of refusal to keep homes out of the county auction. If Albert Williams loses his home to another speculator he’s moving out and plans to take everything he put into the home with him, even the tree in the front yard. “At least I own that,” he says.

Editor’s Note: Sarah Alvarez founded and runs Outlier Media, a journalism service that delivers data reporting and valuable information to low-income consumers over SMS and message apps. She is a former lawyer and public radio reporter and was a 2015 John S. Knight Journalism Fellow at Stanford University. Detroit renters can text “DETROIT” to 63735 to get a free report on their rental property or check on the tax status of their home . For more information or to share your story, contact Sarah at:

Lead photo: Michelle & Chris Gerard



















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